KU coach Charlie Weis said his players aren’t exactly “brimming with confidence” at 1-4, but they remain focused on the present and have put the past behind them during practice.
“The best way of moving on is practicing,” Weis said. “Anybody who has watched us practice, they’re saying, “They’re not practicing any different then when they were 1-0.’ If we were practicing different, I’d be on the coaches and players really, really hard because my expectations are you should practice hard. You should coach hard and practice hard every single day.”
The Jayhawks are looking for a great effort against the Cowboys (2-2), who are coming off a 41-36 home loss to then-No. 12 Texas two weeks ago, a heartbreaking defeat where UT scored the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left. OSU beat Savannah State in the season opener, 84-0, and also Louisiana, 65-24, on Sept. 15, while losing at Arizona, 59-38, on Sept. 8. While the stats may be a bit misleading because Savannah State and Louisiana were inferior competition, Oklahoma State ranks first in the NCAA in total offense (659.0) and scoring offense (55.8), while ranking fifth in both passing offense (359.0) and rushing offense (300.0).
“(Those are) big, big numbers,” Weis said.
The Cowboys are led offensively by running back Joseph Randle, the younger brother of former KU player John Randle who averages a Big 12-best 133.5 yards per game (No. 6 nationally). He had his best game of his career against Texas, rushing for 199 yards and two touchdowns. Randle’s career average per carry of 6.03 yards is fourth among all active players with at least 300 career carries, while he’s ninth among all active players with 32 career touchdowns.
Weis said Randle might be the best running back in the country.
“Somebody told me that KU offered him (a scholarship) in fourth grade; well, they should have offered him in third grade,” Weis quipped. “He's a really, really good running back. He's a home run threat.”
OSU also has two dynamic weapons at quarterback in true freshman Wes Lunt and redshirt freshman J.W. Walsh. Lunt, who won the starting job out of camp, missed most of the Louisiana game and the entire Texas game with an injury. He’s completed 51-of-75 passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns, while Walsh has completed 52-of-78 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns.
“We have to be ready for either one of them,” Weis said.
Defensively, the Cowboys are ranked 46th in the country. Safety Daytawion Lowe leads the attack with 21 tackles.
“Their best player on the team might be (Sharp),” Weis said. “Quinn Sharp might be the best player at his position in the country. He has 27 out of 32 touchbacks on kickoffs, averaging over 44 yards a punt, 7-of-9 on field goals, 28-of-28 on extra points. I mean, he's a very, very good kicker. He really takes you out of your punt return game and your kickoff return game a lot of times, because of how good a player he is. He's exceptional.”
This is a talented Cowboys’ squad which has Weis concerned.
“This is a very good football team with high aspirations with a little edge coming off how their last game ended,” Weis said. “It’s going to be a tough opponent here at home.”
KU hopes to get unleashed against the Cowboys as the Jayhawks try to improve their second- half woes. Kansas has either led (once) or been close at halftime the last four games only to falter in the second half. The Jayhawks’ latest collapse came against K-State last Saturday. Down just 21-14 at halftime, KU was outscored 35-2 in the second half.
“I have to continue finding more alternatives to how we play the second half,” Weis said. “I understand we haven’t come out with the right one yet, but I’m going to keep on working at it.”
Two Jayhawks who are “working at it” and finding their groove are linebacker Ben Heeney and receiver Andrew Turzilli. Heeney had a career-high 14 tackles versus K-State (11 solo stops) and now leads KU with 41 tackles this season. Turzilli, who has started the last three games, caught five passes for 67 yards against K-State and ranks third on the team in receptions with 12 and first in receiving yards with 212.
“Andrew has a chance to be a frontline receiver,” Weis said. “He has a chance because he runs good routes, he is smooth, he has good hands and I think that as he learns that the wide receivers are also a position where you have to establish more toughness. I would not call him one (top-line guy) yet, but I think that he is one of the ones where you can see a lot of upside to him.”
Turzilli and the Jayhawks look to knock off the Cowboys on Saturday. OSU has won the last two games and seven of the last eight meetings, including a 70-28 blowout last season in Stillwater.
Despite KU being back at home, don’t look for the Jayhawks to pull an upset. OSU wins 42-17.