In the end, the answers were simple. It just felt good. For a change, the narrative was a different tale, as Kansas finally snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak, as they blew out West Virginia 31-19 Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The win was the Jayhawks (3-7, 1-6) first Big 12 win since a 52-45 victory over Colorado in November 2010 and the first over a current Big 12 member since a 41-36 win over Iowa State in October of 2009. In fact, the final score was much closer than game itself, as West Virginia (4-7, 2-6) trailed 31-7 well into the fourth quarter. It was a day that was a long time coming for many who went through a number of dark days at Kansas.
“Let's start with the kids that have been here for five years and gone through multiple coaches. Those are the guys I feel the best for,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “I also feel good for all of our students and fans who have endured those years. Finally, I'm obviously happy for the team because they were struggling. The big question was, were they going to throw in the towel? They were resilient and didn't give up. This week it paid off.”
Weis said this past week that he was pouring everything he had into these final three games starting with this one and it showed, as he changed up his offense, lining up the wide receivers in a spread that stretched from sideline to sideline for the first time this season.
The move spread the West Virginia defense thin and along with solid play from the offensive line, allowed Kansas to rush for 348 yards on 54 carries as a team, which aided freshman quarterback Montell Cozart who started for the first time in his brief career.
“We spread the hell out of them,” Weis said. “I figure everyone is doing it to us, why don’t we start doing it to them.”
Senior running back James Sims benefitted the most, running wild for a career 219 yards on 22 carries to go with three touchdowns. Sims, who originally committed to former coach Mark Mangino and suffered through the Turner Gill era took time to savor the moment three years in the making, while keeping the main objective in clear sight heading into the next to last game of the season next week at Iowa State.
"It felt amazing looking up at the scoreboard and us on top and them down, it's a wonderful feeling. We did it as a whole, it wasn't just one individual or anything like that. We did it as a whole and that's a great thing,” Sims said. “We prepared well, it obviously sunk in knowing we weren't going to a bowl game so we just wanted to treat the last three games that we have coming up as our bowl season. We just took down West Virginia so that's one, now we've got to go to Ames, Iowa and get a win up there and make it number two."
Ironically, the Mountaineers scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the game, making it the first time all season the Kansas defense allowed a score on the opening possession and through one quarter, the Jayhawks were getting their legs under them, as they trailed 7-3.
Then, Sims took over, breaking free on a 62 yard run, which led to a three yard touchdown run that gave Kansas its first lead of the game. Late in the quarter, Kansas received the ball at their own 32 and were likely to run out the clock, but Sims had other plans, as he dashed through the WVU secondary untouched for 68 yards and another touchdown that gave Kansas a 17-7 lead at the half.
"Our object was to spread them out,” Sims said. “ That's what the other teams did and they had success so our game plan was to spread them out. If they had five in the box, just hand the ball off, so we took advantage of the five man box today and we gashed them with it. Give credit to the offensive line up front, they won the line of scrimmage. Our whole preparation the whole week was to be physical up front and win the line of scrimmage and that's what they did. Give props to those guys up front.”
Both teams had a possession to start the third quarter, but when Ben Goodman intercepted a Paul Millard pass and advanced it to West Virginia 14, the ever elusive conference was in sight, especially after Sims took it in from two yards out to make it 24-7.
And when Ben Heeney’s fourth quarter interception that was almost a touchdown set up a Brandon Bourbon one yard run, the route was on and streak was finally dead, as the fans poured onto the field and celebrated with the players and Weis, before turning their attention to the goal post behind the south end zone, which were promptly torn down and taken for a swim in Potter Lake for the first time since 2006.
“I think they caught us all by surprise,” junior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd said. “Then, we just kind of turned our heads and everyone was running out there. Honestly, I didn't even know what to do. We were wondering if we should stay there, or keep shaking hands, or what. It was a lot of fun. I hope we get to experience that again."