Jeff Long slipped into the interview room, taking a seat toward the back as to not create attention.
The new Kansas athletic director was here to watch KU coach David Beaty in his postgame press conference after Saturday’s 48-28 home loss to Oklahoma State, and one had to wonder what went through his mind as he continued his season-long evaluation of both coach and program.
Long had just seen what everyone else had: KU’s best quarterback performance of the season had come from previous third-stringer Carter Stanley.
And this, it turned out, was not a topic that Beaty wanted to discuss much.
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“I thought he did some good things, but not enough,” Beaty said. “We still made some mistakes and errors that cost us, got us off the field early in some drives, and we’ve got to be better.”
The coach later was asked if Stanley — following a three-touchdown, no-interception effort — had earned the starter’s job. Beaty said he’d have to rewatch the game to see what he thought.
“It’s hard for me to make that assumption without looking at the video,” Beaty said. “There’s a lot of things that we saw that we liked.”
A heavy big-picture question loomed, though: What took so long to get to this point?
The KU quarterback evaluation officially started in the winter. Peyton Bender, Miles Kendrick and Stanley — the three main candidates vying for the job — were all on KU’s campus, hypothetically giving the coaches plenty of time to evaluate and select the best of the bunch.
Why, then, was Stanley buried on the bench through the first four games, playing only garbage time before getting every offensive snap in a 24-for-32, 247-yard breakout Saturday?
“I don’t look at it as (No.) 1, 2, and 3 (quarterbacks). I know maybe that’s semantics, but Carter’s skill set fit what we needed (against Oklahoma State), and we trusted him because he’s prepared well,” Beaty said, “And it wasn’t anything against Peyton. He’s prepared well too.”
So will KU’s coaches continue to evaluate their opponent week to week while selecting a quarterback?
“You’re not going to bait me into that right now, brother,” Beaty said. “Listen, I’ve got to look at the tape. I mean, we’re not talking about the quarterback anymore so no more questions about that. Let’s go to something else.”
In a game when KU’s defense was repeatedly torched for big plays, it was notable that Beaty didn’t offer more support for Stanley following one of the Jayhawks’ best QB efforts in recent memory.
In Beaty’s 41 games, only one quarterback has thrown for at least three touchdowns with no interceptions: Stanley against Oklahoma State on Saturday.
There’s also this: Only one KU quarterback, over that same four-year period, has completed at least 75 percent of his passes with at least 15 attempts. That was Stanley from Saturday as well.
“It’s not like we won the game,” Beaty said. “So I’m not going to anoint a guy because we scored a few points. We’ve got to look at it on the tape and make sure.”
Considering the circumstances, Stanley’s showing probably was even more impressive than the stat line indicated.
He entered the postgame media session carrying a clear Ziploc bag, later opening it to unwrap a menthol cough drop that helped him finish his interview with reporters.
Stanley had caught a flu bug early Friday, sending him through bouts of hot and cold spells while also draining his body of energy. He even threw up before Saturday’s game.
There also was the challenge of getting caught up. Stanley said he hadn’t been first string with the team since two weeks before the season opener, meaning it had been nearly two months since he’d been groomed to be a real part of KU’s offense.
That changed Monday. Stanley was alerted by coaches, during the Baylor film review, that he’d be getting more first-team reps alongside Bender this week. No official announcement ever was made to the team that he would start, which resulted in some teammates congratulating him on the field in the minutes before the game.
“I had a lot of encouragement from the guys,” Stanley said. “They were awesome, boosting me up, saying they were excited.”
KU’s offense, thanks in part to Stanley, appeared to have a noticeable uptick in enthusiasm.
Receiver Steven Sims, for one, could sense that on the field.
“He loves the game, and you feel his passion for the game,” Sims said of Stanley. “You know he’s out there to make plays. He’s trying to make plays. Not saying the other quarterbacks aren’t that way, but Carter definitely is like that.”
Sims says he never has to question Stanley’s commitment. That was proven two years ago on a play against Texas, when Stanley tried to barrel through a much bigger opponent.
“We see our quarterback dropping his shoulder trying to run defenders over, that’s energy. That brings energy to the team,” Sims said. “What quarterbacks do y’all know dropping their shoulder on safeties? You don’t know any.
“But Carter Stanley does that. That’s fun. That’s like little league football. It reminds you of all the fun times you had when you were 5 years old.”
Stanley’s intangibles, in this case, also came with impressive on-field numbers.
KU’s 28 points were the second most scored in 29 Big 12 games under Beaty. The Jayhawks’ 5.8 yards per play also ranked fifth.
That production won’t be enough — at this point — to get Stanley another opportunity next week in a road game against West Virginia. Kendrick, who sat out Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, could be available soon, and Bender remains an option too.
“Hopefully we’ll get Miles back this next week,” Beaty said, “and we’ll have a full room of competition.”