Keeping hope alive as the losses mount and bowl chances disappear can be a challenge, but the coaches at Kansas and Iowa State say that residing in the Big 12 basement is not depressing their players.
The Jayhawks, who went 0-9 in the league last season, are currently 0-2 while the Cyclones are 0-3. Both teams can take some solace from the fact that Texas (which faces Iowa State in Austin Saturday) is also winless at 0-2.
Both Kansas and Iowa State are trying to build confidence while losing – a neat trick. The Jayhawks missed three fourth-quarter field goals and lost to TCU, 24-23. The Cyclones built a 17-point lead at Oklahoma State but the Cowboys rallied for a 38-31 victory. That defeat came a week after Baylor used a 17-point closing run to post a 45-42 victory in Ames.
Second-year Kansas coach David Beaty and first-year coach Matt Campbell are following similar approaches as they attempt to convince their players to follow the Stuart Smalley approach – I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me (and not just because I lose most of the time).
“The reality for us is in that last 120 minutes of football we’ve been winning in 110 of those,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to figure out how to win those 10 minutes. Winning games is important, but the strides and improvements is what you want to see. Seeing how far we’ve come from Week One is where our guys are getting confidence.
“When you play good teams you have to understand the value of the five, six, seven plays that can dictate the outcome. We’ve got to try to win each of those plays.”
Kansas trailed at Texas Tech by just nine points in the third quarter in Lubbock and was in control of the second half against TCU until the Frogs went ahead on a field goal inside of two minutes. Beaty says it’s not a challenge of keeping his players confident without the affirmation of a victory.
“It’s not tough because the film doesn’t lie,” he said. “That’s the evidence you need. I had a lot of people call and text me that we played well enough to win. We didn’t do enough. What we’ve got to learn is that we’ve got to play four quarters. The goal is not to play close.
“When we watched the tape, we saw the error of our ways and we saw how much better we can be. We tell them the truth and they appreciate that.”
Two officiating decisions went against Kansas in the third quarter. Taylor Martin’s 40-yard touchdown pass was negated by a holding call on right tackle D’Andre Banks, who executed a cut block on the player in front of him.
On the Jayhawks’ next possession, Ke’aun Kinner to score on a second-down run from the 1-yard line. He was ruled short of the line and the replay review upheld the call. On both occasions KU came away with field goals; obviously those eight lost points were crucial.
“We’re not going to sit here and harp on ‘Woe is me’ when it comes to things that don’t go our way,” Beaty said. “We had several opportunities to win the game, and we didn’t convert on any of those opportunities. We don’t get to whine, moan and complain about it. We have to go to school on what happened.”
Iowa State scored two third-quarter touchdowns to take a 31-14 lead on Oklahoma State, but after the Cowboys scored late in the third quarter to pull within 10 points, the Cyclones fumbled on the first play of their next possession. A 16-yard completion and turnover sent Iowa State’s momentum roll into a brick wall.
“We can let one little mistake just let the whole game unfold,” Iowa State quarterback Joel Lanning said. “When Carson (Epps) had that unfortunate fumble for us in the third quarter I think that was the game changer right there.
“Everything unfolded offensively and defensively and we could just not put it together. We can’t let those mistakes affect us.”
In losing its first three games, Iowa State averaged 14.3 points and 317 yards a game; those are numbers that will consign you to the Big 12’s basement. But over the last three games, the Cyclones have average 39 points and 427 yards a game. In a week of practice, Campbell’s staff were able to add offensive wrinkles that surprised Oklahoma State and forced halftime adjustments.
“The feeling was the lack of execution down the stretch,” Campbell said. “We’ve got guys open on third down, we don’t catch the football. Some detail things were lacking when we needed them most. Unfortunately, that’s where we’re at.
“I think the belief of, ‘We can play with anyone that we play,’ is there; it’s the matter of, ‘How do I put the dagger in them?’”