For four years, Kansas has managed to turn losing football games into a form of performance art. Maybe the Jayhawks are just wandering in Big 12 football purgatory, an existence defined by a certain inevitability. Your worst fears will come true. Despair will linger. Week after week after week.
No matter what happens, no matter how well Kansas plays, no matter how close a breakthrough seems, the moment is coming.
On Saturday afternoon, a picturesque fall day for football in the heart of Texas, the moment included a quarterback falling to the turf, a ball squirting out, and a 40-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
“All the momentum in the game changed in one play,” KU coach Charlie Weis would say. “And that was it.”
These are the kind of things that Kansas fans have witnessed for the last four years, the kind of momentum-changing plays that persisted in the Jayhawks’ 35-13 loss to Texas at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Trailing 14-6 with 6:37 left in the third quarter, Kansas took over possession at the Longhorns’ 46. Then Texas’ pass rush blew up the KU offensive line. Jake Heaps was buried by Cedric Reed. And Texas’ Chris Whaley picked up the loose ball and ran for a score.
“I tried to get out of there and didn’t secure the ball,” Heaps said. “I didn’t have two hands on the ball, and you can’t do that versus good teams like that, because things like that will happen.”
Things like that tend to happen to Kansas.
The floodgates opened — Texas scored 21 unanswered points — and Kansas was doomed to its 26th straight conference loss, falling to 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12. KU is three losses shy of Baylor’s record for Big 12 futility.
The fact that Kansas hung with first-place Texas, 6-2 and 5-0 in the Big 12, in their own house provided little in the category of moral victories.
“We’ve got four games (left),” Heaps said, “and despite everything else, we have to go 4-0 to make a bowl game. A bowl game is still possible.”
For another week, the formula had a painful sameness: The Kansas defense, which shook off last week’s 59-14 loss to Baylor, kept the game close for nearly three quarters.
Linebacker Ben Heeney (nine tackles) returned after missing two games because of a knee injury. Safety Isaiah Johnson picked off Texas quarterback Case McCoy twice. KU held the Texas offense to just 14 points for the first 44 minutes of the game.
But in a larger sense, the Kansas defense has been relegated to tight-rope walker status: If the defense isn’t perfect, the fall can be brutal.
“Sometimes our offense can get it going,” Heeney said, “but especially on days when the offense can’t get anything going, we definitely feel like our margin for error is very minimal.”
For the second straight week, Weis juggled Heaps and true freshman quarterback Montell Cozart. Heaps was five of seven passing for 64 yards in the first quarter, but after an early scoring chance was spoiled by a missed field goal from kicker Matthew Wyman, Weis went to Cozart at the beginning of the second quarter.
“That’s not so early,” Weis said, “and we had scored three points.”
Cozart, who rushed four times for 34 yards, tacked on a late touchdown on the ground. He attempted just one pass — though Weis was adamant after the game that he’s not afraid to use Cozart in the passing game.
“We have no qualms with him throwing the ball at this point,” Weis said.
Still, before the late touchdown, the offense could only manage two field goals from senior Ron Doherty, who replaced Wyman after the early miss.
The Jayhawks have lost five straight, and they’ll stay on the road next week at Oklahoma State, a place where Kansas hasn’t won since 2007.
“As long as we kept the game in the 20s, we’d have a chance to win,” Weis said. “And that’s basically how the game goes. Our margin of error is very small, so when you give up one game-changing play… you’re fighting a little bit of an uphill battle.”