"Confidence is a big factor"

Darrel Stuckey (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel)

The Kansas coaches, players and the media were searching for answers after Texas Tech whipped KU, 63-21, on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Texas Tech star quarterback Graham Harrell picked apart the KU secondary, completing 38 of 48 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns. In all, the Red Raiders amassed 556 yards of total offense.

And just last week, OU’s Sam Bradford had a career day against Kansas in the Sooners’ 45-31 victory, completing 36 of 53 through the air for 468 yards and three touchdowns.

But KU wasn’t favored to beat OU in Norman; the then-No. 19 Jayhawks were, however, slight favorites to beat No. 8 Texas Tech.

Mangino and the Jayhawks could only shake their heads in disbelief after Texas Tech’s onslaught.

“I don’t think we played good fundamental football on defense, particularly on the coverage aspect,” Mangino said. “I thought we gave too much cushion to receivers. I didn’t think we broke to the ball in the back end the way we should. I felt there were instances where our defense was put in position to take away some routes, but we took our eye off the key and didn’t stay focused on exactly what we were supposed to do fundamentally.”

When there’s many questions, who’s your go-to guy for answers among the Jayhawk players? The answer is simple: you search out junior safety Darrell Stuckey. Stuckey, who had 10 tackles on Saturday, is KU’s renaissance man — a co-captain and star player; a motivational speaker; a community leader; just a personable young man who always has bright words to share.

Stuckey’s teammates hold him in high regard; they voted him  one of the most competitive players on the roster and one of the most likely to succeed. He was also voted the nicest player on the team.

So like my media colleagues, I sought out Mr. Stuckey on Saturday in hopes of hearing his insight after KU’s brutal defeat.

Calmly and patiently, Stuckey sat in his chair around a group of reporters at Mrkonic Auditorium in the Anderson Family Football Complex  and thoughtfully discussed what had just transpired.

Stuckey said it was a “disappointment we never did anything right”
    
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been beaten like that. Anytime you have so many things go wrong, you got to become a better player. You got to become humble. You got to see that maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was, maybe I’m not doing something right. As a defense, we’ve  got to come together and close the zones, close the gaps.”

KU certainly didn’t close many gaps on Saturday. Harrell had a field day, completing passes to 11 different receivers.

“Anytime you go one on one with somebody, it’s all about who’s going to be the better man,” Stuckey said. “It takes a mental attitude to play football, especially on defense because you’re chasing somebody the entire time. You have to realize there are going to be times when you’re going to fail, but it’s what you do after you get back up that defines who you are.”

The Jayhawks went into the game with a new lineup in the secondary with Mangino hoping to improve cornerback play. Free safety Justin Thornton switched to cornerback for the first time while regular cornerback starter Chris Harris played safety. Corrigan Powell also made his first start at cornerback, while speedy wide receiver Daymond Patterson switched to defense and played backup cornerback.

Stuckey certainly wasn’t attributing the loss to his teammates adjusting to new positions. But he said “confidence is a big factor.”

“I think (we) have to realize we have each others’ backs, regardless,” Stuckey said. “You can’t be afraid to fail. It’s when you’re afraid to fail, you do fail because you’re thinking about it too much.”

Stuckey said there would a lot of soul searching with himself and his teammates.

“You start with yourself,” he said. “Mental toughness, it goes a long way.  You have to play for pride. Going out there and knowing that it’s your (responsibility), you can change. You can’t change the person next to you ... We have to check ourselves and realize what we need to do to get better.”

While KU’s 13-game home winning streak ended, Stuckey is confident the Jayhawks will bounce back and play well against K-State on Saturday in the Sunflower Showdown at Memorial Stadium. He said his teammates weren’t shaken with the beating by Texas Tech, just ready to fight harder and start another winning streak.

“It’s always a positive when a team has to come here (to Memorial Stadium),” Stuckey said about next week’s game. “We have to revamp and go strong and play as hard as we can.”

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