I should have known it was going to be a bad football weekend when, while watching some NBA action Friday, I noticed the ESPN scroll said that Bob Sanders was out for the season. Then again, I really should have expected that at some point before the playoffs, right?
I probably watched less of the KU loss to K-State than I’ve watched of any KU game in the past four years. I could tell early on that, baring something crazy happening, we were going to lose. There’s something about the body language of almost everyone on the team that suggests they’ve already packed it in. I wondered if maybe it was just me reading too much into things I could only view on a TV screen, but others I discussed the game with noticed the same thing. Anyway, I didn’t see much point investing myself in the game if the team didn’t seem to be willing to do the same.
There are many theories as to what’s going on with the team. I don’t think you can discount Todd Reesing’s injury. While I don’t think you can write off all of his awful play the last month to the injury, there are times when it’s glaringly obvious he’s not the same player he was in September. His first interception Saturday was a perfect example. Dezmon Briscoe was five yards behind the K-State defenders. It was an easy throw. And Reesing put it at least ten yards short and it turned into an easy pick. If he’s healthy, i don’t think he misses short like that.
Some theories suggest strife within the team that lingers from the basketball brawl earlier this fall. Others say the coaching staff has lost the attention of the players. I’m not close enough, nor do I have good enough sources, to know if those are valid or not.
My theory is different. I think after the Colorado loss the entire team knew the Big 12 North was, at best, a long shot. With Reesing injured, that made it even less likely they could win the division.* THe main goal for this season was to win the school’s first ever division title. I don’t know if I can say significant parts of the team have given up, but I do think the urgency a team needs to win is missing.
(This was before we saw how shitty the North is. Listen, all credit to K-State and Bill Snyder, who is proving his genius this year,** but that is not a very good team and they just might win the division.)
(Part of Snyder’s genius is looking at the North and thinking, “I can beat all those teams,” and deciding to return to fix the post-Prince mess. He’s beaten KU. Mizzou is next week. Win that, win the north, and even if they get embarrassed in Dallas, he’s immediately right back in the recruiting mix for every local blue chipper. Dude is crazy like a fox.)
If that’s true, it’s sad. The much-maligned defense, which I was begging for even a half-assed performance from six weeks ago, has actually played very well the last three games. Even in the Colorado game, 21 points were the results of turnovers deep in our own territory by the offense. The coaching staff and players have made changes, and they’ve paid off.
The only problem is the offense A) can’t score and B) keeps giving the ball to the other team. Something is going on with the play calling, which has been head scratching for most of the last month. Why Toben Opurum didn’t get the ball Saturday when KU was inside the K-State five I can’t understand. Hell, the kid needs some carries period. They’ve forgotten him since Jake Sharp returned, and Sharp is at his best when he’s the change-of-pace back.
If you take the KU offense from September and the defense from October, KU is 8-1 right now.* Hell, they might have beaten Oklahoma, since the offense again handed them most of their points and Dezmon Briscoe dropped a sure touchdown, and be booking hotel rooms in Dallas.
(I know a lot of teams can make statements like that. I’m just pointing out how bad the offense has been, and how much the defense has improved.)
What’s most frustrating is that this is not how the Fighting Manginos have played. Even when they were overmatched in the early years of his tenure, the teams always played hard and disciplined. They stayed in games they had no business being in because they paid attention to details and stuck to the scheme. That peaked two years ago, when a team that lacked any big time high school recruits went 12-1 and won a BCS game. Has some of that been lost as the talent level has increased? I don’t know if you can say that. It’s odd, though, that with some of the raw skill the current roster has, you don’t see guys making plays like Marcus Henry and Brandon McAnderson made two years ago. Dez Briscoe, for all his talent, has yet to catch a ten yard pass and turn it into a 75 yard touchdown, the way Henry would do. Henry consistently gave KU great field position on kick offs. Despite trying just about every skill player on the roster, none have been able to do much with kick off returns.
All this reminds me how magical the 2007 was. I’m sure I had my hopes a little too high this season based on those memories. Being KU, you always kind of expect the worst when it comes to football. But I hoped that, no matter what, the team would play hard and care about every game, the way the Fighting Manginos have always played. Losing that focus is perhaps more disappointing than the losses.
Whatever the explanation is, and I have a feeling it’s more complex than anyone outside the locker room knows, I’m not moping about it. It’s disappointing and frustrating and I hope the team can pull it together and get at least one more win to become bowl eligible. Whether they go to a shitty bowl is a whole other matter. There is a lot of young talent in the program, perhaps more than there has ever been. Recruiting has gone very well this fall, although if we go 0-3 the rest of the month, you have to start worrying about kids looking elsewhere. And don’t think Old Man Snyder isn’t salivating at the thought of doing his annual “I’ll go steal three KU recruits the week before signing day” act.
In general, the program is miles ahead of where it was the last time we approached the end of a decade. If we can manage to get wins against Nebraska and Missouri, some of the sting will disappear. Not that I’m holding my breath or anything.
As for the Colts, I had a long night with L. Saturday. Her Sunday nap coincided with the Colts game. I slept with her and missed most of the game. It’s very disappointing, though, to see their defense, which was becoming one of the best in the league, get leveled by injuries. It seems like each morning I pick up the paper, I read of another player who is out for the season. Something is going on over there. Peyton better watch his knees.
And lookie here: the Colts are undefeated in November and New England is coming to town. I think I’ve seen this one before. This time, though, the Colts seem to be the stronger team in just about every aspect. Can Jim Caldwell match wits with The Brain, though?