KU football refocused after three-week hiatus
LAWRENCE — In the aftermath of its 53-point defeat at Oklahoma, submerged Kansas football needed an opportunity to catch its breath.
The Jayhawks got just that — and then some.
KU’s upcoming 7 p.m. Saturday home contest against TCU will represent the program’s first game since that Nov. 7 blowout in Norman, Okla. The winless Jayhawks have been inactive the last two weekends with a scheduled bye and the postponement of last Saturday’s planned home date with No. 20 Texas — injuries and COVID-19 contact tracing kept KU from meeting the Big 12’s established minimum player thresholds.
Will rust be a factor against the Horned Frogs? To be fair, it’s difficult to imagine KU (0-7, 0-6 Big 12) playing any worse than it has since the start of league play, where it has lost each game by an average margin of 35.8 points.
So, yes, perhaps the three-week reset was exactly what the doctor ordered.
“I think our guys have handled this. I think they’re very resilient,” said KU head coach Les Miles. “I think they want to have a team that is special. I think the fight is certainly there. We just, we have to get that spring ball back, we have to get some of the players in line to lead and I think our football team can be special. That’s just me.”
While junior wide receiver Takulve Williams acknowledged the uncertainty of the last month has been “definitely hard” for the team to navigate, he added that his teammates have done a good job staying focused on the task at hand.
“We’ve never had to play a game and then we’re going into another one saying, ‘Man, I wonder if we’re going to play,’ ” Williams said. “The older guys like myself, we just do our best to keep everybody on the team (focused on) the plan. So if we prepare like we’re playing we’ll always be ready for anything.”
Williams noted that some younger players have overthought the stop-and-go situation but added it’s on the team’s veterans to keep them on track and motivated amid the struggles both competitive- and health-wise. A victory in the team’s final three games, Williams said, would mean so much to the scuffling program.
“We’re going in to win every game obviously, but I really want to get us a win to show (the young players) we can do it because I know it just can, like, bring more confidence to the team, to show ’em that you really can do it,” Williams said. “I feel like a win would help us a lot (with our) confidence.”
Senior linebacker Kyron Johnson rejected the idea that rust could be a problem against TCU (3-4, 3-4), instead contending that the program is in a perpetual state of “preparing to do something great here.”
“It’s just basically trying to tell everybody, ‘Keep your head up,’ ” Johnson said. “... It’s life. Stuff happens to you. It’s going to happen. You’ve just got to kick back. You’ve just got to basically fight back, shall I say.”
Saturday’s game also represents the program’s Senior Night, festivities made more awkward this season because of the pandemic — fans will not be allowed inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the Jayhawks’ penultimate home contest.
Johnson said Monday that he plans on returning for a second senior campaign, taking advantage of the NCAA’s ruling that keeps this season from counting against players’ eligibility. Johnson came to that decision not for himself, he said, but out of a desire to help “put KU on the map.”
“As you can tell, we’re not on the map,” Johnson continued. “And people know that. It’s good to say that. It’s OK. We’re not on the map. We’re (0-7). We’ve still got three more games to go. With that being said, it is what it is.”
Throughout the mounting losses, the pandemic and the midseason opt-outs of top stars like running back Pooka Williams and linebacker Dru Prox, Miles said his coaching staff has done a “magnificent job” of holding the team together.
“I think the relationship that you have with your team speaks to how they’ll respond at points and times of crisis,” Miles said. “I don’t know exactly how you view this year, but I would have to think that this team, even though they’ve struggled at times, has handled what this calendar brought very well.”
TCU AT KANSAS
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence
Records: TCU 3-4, 3-4 Big 12; KU 0-7, 0-6 Big 12
Line: TCU by 24
TV/radio (Topeka): FS1/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Up next for KU: at Texas Tech, TBA Dec. 5, Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas