Vahe Gregorian

Kansas football shortcomings all too evident, but there’s case for patience

Texas head coach Charlie Strong (left) and Kansas head coach Charlie Weis might have been commiserating after Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.
Texas head coach Charlie Strong (left) and Kansas head coach Charlie Weis might have been commiserating after Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence. The Associated Press

It was just one play in one game in an era of futility.

But it spoke eloquently of where Kansas football is hovering in its third season under coach Charlie Weis:

There are fleeting signs of possibilities … but not enough tangible traction to inspire faith. At least not beyond the sort that calls for a hope in the unseen or belief without evidence.

The status quo was encapsulated in the third quarter Saturday at Memorial Stadium, where Kansas ultimately fell 23-0 to Texas.

For context, it was a Texas team that in this time of transition is Texas in name only. The Longhorns were plenty vulnerable at 1-2 and sputtering offensively because of personnel losses.

The Jayhawks were trailing 13-0 at the end of the half, but they muzzled the Longhorns on their first drive of the second half.

Then KU sprung 76 yards for a first and goal at the Texas 8.

This was on the verge of being a tussle, and who knows what happens with a touchdown there?

Then the drive crumbled. And on fourth and 5 it came to this: a fade route from sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart intended for Nigel King.

The play, really, had zero chance of being executed with King engulfed by Texas defensive back Duke Thomas.

It was little more than a guess of a chance.

Consider the deft touch and chemistry it would take to convert it … and the fact that Cozart was in the midst of completing 12 of 31 passes for four interceptions.

“You throw a touchdown pass, it’s 13-7, and now all it takes is one play, one play, the difference between winning and losing,” Weis said. “We just didn’t make the first play to get it to a one-score game.”

Instead, that was the beginning of the end on a day marked by KU gaffes, including Cozart’s tipped interception in the end zone on Kansas’ first drive.

In fact, if there was anything encouraging about this, mistakes had a lot more to do with the result than KU being outmanned.

Turnovers and a punt return set up all four Texas scores, and by set up we mean on a velvet tee: Texas’s 23 points came on 62 yards of drives.

Whatever the reasons, though, the reality remains this:

Kansas, 2-2, still is snared in the spiral of losing at 3-41 in Big 12 play the last five-plus seasons.

And KU now is 6-22 overall and 1-18 in Big 12 games under Weis, whose niche was supposed to be offense but … hasn’t been.

No doubt plenty of paddling is going on under the surface, and there may even be some good stuff bubbling up.

But it’s not evident, either.

There is enormous pressure on Weis because of this, of course, and you can’t help but wonder just what athletic director Sheahon Zenger meant when he said this last summer that Weis needs to create “momentum” and added, “Let’s be real clear: momentum is wins.”

Those words don’t seem to bode well for what’s unfolded so far, including a 41-3 loss at Duke that Weis reiterated on Saturday was embarrassing.

But there’s a point of perspective here for those saying Weis has had enough time and are screeching for change now.

The ones who’d pay the biggest price for that appease-the-masses thinking are the ones this matters most to: the players, who are the ones suffering now.

“What do they get for all that blood, sweat and tears?” Weis said. “And all I can tell them is this is what people do. This is what people who persevere do. … They keep pushing because your only other choice is to quit.”

Meanwhile, unless Zenger sees something troubling behind the scenes or some obvious disconnect, it also makes no sense to shut down Weis now.

Kansas is a step away from even visible strides forward, but there are plenty of programs that prospered after three years of scuffing under a new coach who was rebuilding.

And whatever you think of Weis, he inherited a shambles.

Kansas has its own history to point to as an example.

Bob Valesente went 4-17-1 and 0-14 in Big Eight play in 1986-87.

Glen Mason took over the rubble, and his first team went 1-10. He was 4-7 in his second season and 3-7-1 in his third.

But then-athletic director Bob Frederick saw enough forming to believe the program was making incremental progress.

Two years later, KU went to its first bowl game in 31 years, and in 1995 the Jayhawks went 10-2.

There may or may not be heartening signs that Zenger sees, of course, and the pressure to make changes faster is stronger than ever between the money at stake and the temperatures driven by social media in a snap-judgment world.

Plenty may believe they already know where this is headed.

But there’s most of a season to be played, and who’s to say that none of those small, pivotal moments that went against KU on Saturday can’t turn from mere wishes to actual gains that change the look of this?

Improbable, yes, but what’s the point of deciding now?

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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