Nobody gave the Kansas football a team a chance against TCU as the Jayhawks prepared to face the No. 16 team in the nation on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. After all, the Horned Frogs were the new Big 12 "big boys" who had just crushed Grambling State, 56-0, in their senior opener, while KU was coming off a demoralizing 25-24 loss to Rice.
But there KU was, going toe-to-toe with TCU, staying within four points at halftime (10-6), forcing four turnovers and limiting the Horned Frogs to just 2 of 10 on third-down conversions. Down 20-6, the Jayhawks still had hope they could come back until senior quarterback Dayne Crist fumbled in the TCU end zone with 1:16 remaining in the game, sealing the Horned Frogs' victory. It will go down in the record books as a 14-point loss by the Jayhawks, but KU coach Charlie Weis believes his team made a "major step in the right direction." "A lot of people, including myself, wanted to see what Kansas was going to do in a game like this," Weis said. "And I think you saw how hard they played the whole game." But that's what made this loss hurt so bad, even worse than last Saturday, when Rice overcame a 24-13 third-quarter deficit and won the game on a field goal as time expired.
"You can see that it meant so much to them," Weis said. "Last week, I think they were kind of in shock. They were up a couple of scores and didn't finish the game. This one, they're grinding, they're fighting, they're clawing, they're scratching. You're a little bit behind, then you're a little bit more behind, but you're hanging in here. You're fighting right to the end of the game. For that, I respect them."
While KU's defense allowed 480 yards of total offense, TCU only managed two touchdowns as the Jayhawks forced three critical fumbles in the red zone.
"Every (turnover) was a big play," Weis said. "That's keeping points off the board and that's why at the end there's still a chance."
KU, though, didn't capitalize on the Horned Frogs' fumbles, only mustering two field goals by Ron Doherty in the first and second quarter. The Jayhawks had poor field position all day, converted on just 2 of 13 third downs, had too many passes dropped, and failed to record touchdowns in the red zone.
That doomed KU in the end.
"When you don't have production on third down and you don't score touchdowns in the red zone, you lose 20-6," Weis said.
On a positive note, Crist broke out out of his two-game slump, completing 19 of 39 passes for 303 yards while taking hit after hit under pressure. Running back Tony Pierson was one of his favorite receivers, catching six passes for 99 yards. Andrew Turzilli made the most of his first career start (replacing the injured Kale Pick) with three receptions for a career-best 100 yards.
Defensively, senior safety Bradley McDougald came up huge with a career-high 12 tackles (nine solo stops), including one sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. He also forced two fumbles. Senior defensive end Toben Opurum was impressive as well with six tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. While Weis said there are no moral victories, he called a timeout with 1:14 left in the game as TCU was running the clock out for a "teaching moment about turning the corner."
"(I wanted) to let them know, ‘Hey, everyone came here today thinking you're going to get the crap kicked out of you. That didn't turn out that way, did it?' No one's happy when you lose, and I'm a fierce competitor as they come, but I admire the fact the guys for 60 minutes were slugging it out and trying to do everything they could to put us in a position to still win the game. And until we turned the ball over (in the last minute), the game was still in doubt.
.".. If you score at the end, there's a minute left, you kick an onside kick and you never know."
The Jayhawks were all ears during that final timeout.
"He was just trying to let us know that if we keep playing that hard, we're bound to come out on top sooner or later," sophomore linebacker Ben Heeney said.