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September 2, 2012During the off-season one of the hot topics among Kansas football fans was "how many games would the Jayhawks win?"
If you listened to Charlie Weis and Dr. Sheahon Zenger when they travelled the state talking to KU fans they never once promised a number of wins. The focus was about improving as a program and playing with effort for 60 minutes.
Since the middle of the 2009 season the Kansas program had a total of one conference win. Listening and reading reactions after the 31-17 win over South Dakota State you would have thought the Jayhawks lost the game.
Weis didn't roll into Lawrence and sprinkle magic dust in the locker room that was going to miraculously produce seven wins. Turning the Kansas program around is going to take more than a spring and summer. It is going to take hard work and sticking to a plan.
There have been more negative comments than good from fans about the win. But sometimes that's what you get with Kansas fans, that don't follow much football.
Most people don't know that the Missouri Valley Conference plays some good football. Take a look at Youngstown State from the MVC who went on the road and beat Pitt yesterday. Not quite the debut Paul Cryst was looking for, who by the way was in the final group to be the Jayhawks head coach last December.
Northern Iowa went on the road and lost to Wisconsin by five. Wisconsin was the school Dayne Crist was likely to attend until Weis got the job at KU. Indiana State went on the road and lost by a touchdown to Big 10 opponent Indiana. The Hoosiers had to hold off Indiana State three times in the fourth quarter in their own territory.
North Dakota State won the national championship last season. And Missouri State had Kansas State tied at the half last night.
Yet there were predictions of a Kansas 52-7 and 49-10 victory by some.
Turning around the Kansas program isn't going to happen overnight. You don't change three years of bad play in six months.
When Dayne Crist walked into the press room last night he admitted he could have played better. He missed some receivers and a couple passes that could have been picked. But it is week one, with a new team.
"I'm very disappointed with how I played," Crist said. "I left a ton of throws out on the field."
Coaches always say in the beginning of the year a team improves most from week one to week two. Then the next progression is week two to week three. After that you start playing football and settle in.
Weis said Crist will get better each week. He reminded us in the press room he hasn't played since being pulled in the first half of the first game last year at Notre Dame.
There was the second half when Austin Sumner entered the game and started to connect with his receivers. He had the Kansas nickel package on their heels for a while throwing for 175 yards in the second half. Let's go back and talk about the Missouri Valley Conference again. Last season Sumner was selected the MVC Freshman of the Year. He set conference records for a freshman. He's a 6-foot-5 kid that can throw the ball. He could play for a lot of programs.
And the Jayhawks also picked him off four times.
The defensive line rotated nine different players throughout the game. They combined for a total of 18 tackles. Last season the front four never combined for that many tackles in a game. Ron Doherty averaged 45 yards a punt.
Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox ran for 253 yards. Much of it was behind the left side of the line which features three, experienced seniors. As the game went on the right side got their chances.
There were two blocked punts and good plays from the special teams. There was good and bad on the night. There are things to build on and some that need improving. The next team to enter Lawrence is Rice. Don't count on a blowout.
Rice did some nice things against UCLA and looked decent at times. They trailed 35-24 at the half before being outscored 14-0 in the second half. They showed a lot of different formations offensively. They ran pistol, option, and zone read. Everything runs through their quarterback Taylor McHargue, who is a gutsy player. The UCLA offense chopped the Rice defense for 600-plus yards.
Former Kansas offensive line John Reagan is the offensive coordinator for the Owls.
Next week the test will get a little tougher. Rice is a Conference USA opponent that faces better competition. Kansas fans need to watch and see what type of progress the Jayhawks make. One goal is to see improvements in the areas that need it from the North Dakota State game. But the main goal is to walk off the field 2-0.