Coaches often say that a handful of plays every game can be used to decide the winner.
Another Bad Start Dooms Jayhawks
Last week, it resulted in a heartbreaking 34-30 upset loss to Colorado in Boulder, but at least Reesing pulled out of the tailspin in plenty of time to rally the troops.
The outcome Saturday against Oklahoma in Lawrence was a 14-0 deficit less than a minute into the second quarter and a football game that was, for all intents and purposes, over.
Two Reesing interceptions – one an 85-yard pick six by OU's Dominique Franks as KU threatened to tie the game – staked Oklahoma to that early 14-0 lead. Reesing was never a factor in the game. In fact, I don't think I'd get much of an argument if I said it was Reesing's worst game as a Jayhawk.
Two Jacob Branstetter field goals just before the half got KU back to within eight, 14-6, and gave KU a little bit of a boost heading into the locker room. Even in the second half, though, Reesing never did get his feet underneath him. Crisp, well-timed passes were the exception more than the rule. When he should've thrown the ball on a line, he put air under them. When they needed air, he threw them on a line. If Reesing was a pitcher, he'd have been high and outside all afternoon long.
I asked Mangino if maybe his quarterback was trying to hard, and he was quick to say no.
The coach said, ""I don't think he's trying to do anything spectacular. He's playing within the talent level that he has. I think people are making some good plays on him. There are no excuses. He has made some throws he should not have."
Mangino continued, "We need to coach better. We need to put him in situations to succeed early, and maybe I need to look in the mirror."
The Kansas coach has historically been measured and somewhat guarded when talking to the media. He's fiercely protective of his players, and perhaps this is just another case of him protecting his best player, a tremendously talented young man who's as capable of – and probably as entitled to – a lousy game as anyone else.
Reesing acknowledged the expectations and sounded a little bit like those expectations might be wearing on him a little bit.
"I think after how many games I've played here, (fans) expect a certain level of performance, and I expect that from myself as well. And to go out there and not be able to make plays that I'm used to making and (when) I'm not making the throws I used to make, yeah, that expectation is there."
KU's football team has come a long way in Mark Mangino's seven-plus year tenure, but Saturday showed us the wide gap that still exists between the Jayhawks and the Oklahomas of the world.
Here's reality, KU fans: Todd Reesing has no margin for error. None. He's the only player on the squad who can't afford a bad game, or even half of a bad game, ever.
That's not fair.
Oklahoma racked up just 337 yards of total offense – way below their season average – behind a backup quarterback who was fronted by a young, inexperienced offensive line that, on occasion, looked like a Chinese fire drill. And they still won by three touchdowns.
That gap won't get any narrower until players other than Reesing step up and make plays. Yes, it falls to the coaches to recruit better athletes. One has to ask one's self if the tried and true Mangino recruiting model – recruit the 2-star kids with a big heart and then coach the hell out of them – will get the Jayhawks past the 7-5 ceiling they seem to have hit.
I'm hard-pressed, however, to believe that there aren't a number of football players on this squad who can't look inside themselves and find what it takes to step up and make plays when KU's lynchpin, be it Todd Reesing or Kale Pick or Toben Opurum or whomever it might be, is struggling.
I still think Kansas has the opportunity to go 8-4 and make something slightly better than the Woot.com Bowl. Nebraska still doesn't scare me, especially after losing a 9-7 pillow fight to Iowa State in Lincoln. Kansas State can't do anything but run the football, which is nice because KU's defense defends the run really well. Finally, Missouri is reeling a little bit, particularly with their newest five-time Heisman winner, Blaine Gabbert, dealing with an ankle injury that won't get any better until the season is over.
If KU's going to win those games – and if they expect to try and sneak a win out of Lubbock and to be competitive at Austin – they can't expect Reesing to shoulder the entire load. Other guys have to step up.
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