For the second straight week, Kansas played a statement game, only this one didn’t require the athletic director’s letterhead.
By winning at Central Michigan and putting a final number(46) on its NCAA-record losing streak for road games, the Jayhawks announced, for at least one week, this wasn’t business as usual.
When that appeared to be the case in their previous game, an overtime loss to FCS school Nicholls State, which lost Saturday at Tulane by 25, KU athletic director Jeff Long got enough queries from reporters about the program’s progress and coach David Beaty’s status that he issued a response calling for support of the team.
Turned out, the team handled itself just fine. KU accomplished something common in college football by fixing first-week errors and showing immediate improvement. Forcing turnovers was huge, and Central Michigan committed six.
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Another big development from the first to second week was the availability of running back Pooka Williams. One of the most hyped freshmen to sign at KU, Williams wasn’t available for the opener for an unknown reason.
After getting cleared to play on Friday night, Williams made the most of his college debut with 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It’s reasonable to suggest Williams would have made enough of a difference the previous week to reverse the outcome.
Kansas fans now have something they haven’t had in awhile, something fans at other schools regularly get to experience. They can buy a ticket for the next game against an opponent in the same classification with an expectation of competitiveness.
Rutgers visits Lawrence on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights fell at Ohio State 52-3 on Saturday. They punted away their first six possessions, five without a first down, and the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on five of their first six drives. It was the type of mismatch the Jayhawks have known all too well in recent years.
Kansas gets to practice this week in good spirits, also a departure from the norm. Fans have lived the KU football malaise game to game. Inside the program, hurt is felt daily, and no current team has been in this place longer than the Jayhawks.
Beaty hit the right note after the game when asked about ending the streak. “Our fans deserve better,” he said. “I’m glad it’s over.”
But what continues is the scrutiny. The victory is part of the evaluation process for the only person whose judgment matters. Long will make the call on the future of Beaty, who won his fourth game in four years on Saturday. It’s possible that with a couple more clunkers the Jayhawks could find themselves with an interim coach to finish the year. Temps have finished two seasons since 2001 at KU.
The best path for Kansas is to make Long’s decision aboutthe next coach as difficult as possible, and that only happens if the Jayhawks turn Saturday’s feel-good victory into something more than a one-day celebration — one in which Long was a full participant as he greeted players entering the locker room — and they build on their success.
That’s something that couldn’t happen with the road losing streak. That obstacle has been cleared.