No one in their right mind Saturday thought Kansas would waltz into Waco and upset the offensively-aggressive minded Baylor Bears on National Television.
However – and maybe I’m not in my right mind – I at least expected to see the Jayhawks look competitive and put a charge in to the Bears. Saturday’s contest was the biggest test yet on the ‘Can-Clint-Bowen-Be-The-Guy’ ongoing job interview that’s been mostly positive to this point.
For the Pro-Clint crowd, and for the record, I find myself snuggled comfortably between the pro and anti-Clint crowd, this team had shown a lot of fight, the defense was improving and it appears the offense might actually have a quarterback who can throw in Michael Cummings.
Yet on Saturday, the Anti-Clint crowd had its first real ‘Aha’ moment.
Sure, this team is devoid of any playmakers on either side of the ball, but they’ve got heart, and that’s good for something, although it hasn’t been good enough for any wins to this point in Bowen’s dress rehearsal. Playing competitively against West Virginia, almost beating Oklahoma State and flirting with Texas Tech at least gave some inclination that the Jayhawk defense – with two weeks to prepare – could at least slow the Baylor offense. And then perhaps the KU offense might mix things up enough to keep things interesting.
Aside from an early three and out and holding Baylor to field goals after inexplicable turnovers deep in their own territory, the same issues that have plagued this Kansas team for the last half decade continued all day Saturday – costly penalties, turnovers, bad tackling, poor game-planning and overall just physically overmatched.
On a day when TCU and West Virginia played an instant classic, Oklahoma ran Iowa State off the field and as usual, Kansas State did what it’s done for the better part of the last two decades – take regular guys and make them sound, discipline, mistake-free football machines, Kansas seems worlds away in terms of ability and talent in the Big 12.
In other words, this team has a looong way to go despite whomever ends up as the head coach.
What bothered me the most on Saturday was how dysfunctional this team continues to look on offense, and that’s perhaps going to be the biggest issue – aside from recruiting – affecting whether or not Clint Bowen gets to keep the KU job going forward.
On one hand, the run game continues to stink, and that’s only buttressed by the lack of any push from its underwhelming offensive line. Given the problem with said offensive line, the John Regan and company are doing nothing to help out Michael Cummings with quick slants and short drops. Instead he keeps taking big hits, and for some silly reason, they’re abusing the WR screen, which is being abused by opposing defenses.
In a college football landscape that seemingly gets more creative every week, KU’s offense appears to be one step ahead of the veer.
I’ve never questioned Clint Bowen’s dedication to Kansas Football, and in some ways, I’m convinced that he can recruit because he knows the kind of players Kansas can get. What I’m not sure of is whether he can bring in the kind of staff it’ll take to make the Jayhawks competitive. If he can’t find an innovative offensive mind to help bolster what’s been a quagmire since Mark Mangino left, anything else he does is window-dressing. This team needs innovation, and if Bowen can’t provide that, he’s not the man for the job.
I understand he’s stuck with what he has to work with, but I’ve seen nothing out of this offense in four games to suggest any creativity at all.
To top things off, Bowen and Company has four games left to prove something, and only one of those games – next week with Iowa State and the aforementioned Mangino coming to town – is truly winnable. If this team can’t get up to beat Iowa State – because you know Mangino has circled this game since he was named Offensive Coordinator in Ames – it doesn’t bode well for Bowen.
After Iowa State – this team has games against TCU, at Oklahoma, and then you finish the season off against your in-state rival Kansas State – who might be playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
If you’re Sheahan Zenger, and you’re still cleaning the egg off your face after the Charlie Weis debacle, can you really instill any confidence in your football program, and more importantly, to the KU Boosters, if you name Clint Bowen the head coach after he finishes 1-7 or 0-8?
Again, Bowen wasn’t left with much, but that’s why he’s been given eight games to show he can make the most out of a bad situation. Blowout losses like the ones that are forthcoming don’t prove he can make something out of nothing. Unfortunately for Kansas football, it proves more of the same. And for Zenger, for his own job security, he can’t afford more of the same.