Week 1: Southeast Missouri State

KU gets flak for having bad attendance. After two very very bad seasons in 2012 and 2015, attendance fell hard, and we’ve never really recovered. For the last game of the 2015 season, we had a student section that went up maybe ten rows at the beginning of the game. I don’t blame the people who didn’t come out, I know there’s a lot more to do in Lawrence or Kansas City on a Saturday if you don’t want to watch losing football. General admission seating is where my barometer for casual support comes from, and when you’re seeing silver bleachers from the fifteenth row up in the GA sections, there’s no question that something’s wrong.

The best crowd I can remember in my time at KU was probably my sophomore year, 2014, coming off of the hype of the strong finish to the previous season. The home opener that year (fittingly, against SEMO), featured a great crowd and a 24-0 first quarter lead, which prompted about half of that great crowd to depart in the second quarter. Ever since then, it’s been bad to decent sized crowds, but never matching that size, and never even approaching the numbers of years prior.

Ever since the ground-level of 2015, it’s been getting better. Just by doing an eye-test, I’ve noticed that even throughout a pretty tough 2016, there was always a good number of students, and during competitive games, they stayed to the end. It feels like something’s been growing, both in on-field play and fan engagement, and a good student section would be proof of the latter.

After the pregame show, I stepped by the student section, looked upwards, and couldn’t see to the empty bleachers behind them. If football isn’t back, then at least for Saturday night, it was here.

2007, the year that football broke

I keep hearing the sentiment that “It’s hard to believe that 2007 was ten years ago”, and I disagree with that.

I listen to a podcast named Thirty Twenty Ten, where the show hosts discuss media and news from each week dating back thirty, twenty, and ten years – in this year’s case, 1987, 1997, and 2007. It seems like the most recent news makes me feel the oldest. Trends that started in 2007 haven’t always ended yet, so there isn’t a detachment from the events like in the two earlier decades. While I associate 2007 with, like, “Crank Dat” by Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em and Halo 3, I also associate it with YouTube, Facebook, and HD Television.

YouTube in 2007 different quite a lot from YouTube in 2017, but I type in the same URL to go to both sites. I’ve been going to that site probably every day since then, and I’ve noticed a lot of changes. What, when I first really found the site in 2007 (maybe late 2006 but whatever), YouTube was mostly kids with flip phone cameras and Adobe Flash putting videos online for the first time. Now, it’s home to million-dollar operations and globally-recognized celebrities – a far cry from two kids from my junior high fighting in a ditch across the street from Walgreen’s.

But it’s still YouTube. I never left YouTube, so I got to see all of the videos and changes between then and now, so 2007 YouTube feels like it’s as long ago as each of those videos seen between then and now would dictate.

Memorial Stadium feels the same way. That used to be the place, when I was 12 years old, where a really competitive, complete, and talented team would go out and dominate each week. Much of that year is a blur, but I remember certain little moments – I bought a red KU winter hat that matted my long hair down during one game.  One of the concession stand workers handed me a fifty-cent piece as change and I didn’t know what to do with it. We pulled away from Nebraska in the third quarter but I remember being in the bathroom, hearing a loud cheer, and not knowing if it was from Husker or Jayhawk fans because Nebraska always had a huge contingency of fans on the road. By the end of the game, it was just Jayhawk fans cheering.

And in the past ten years, it has been far less cheering from Jayhawk fans. They’re still there, but it’s just hard to find something to cheer about sometimes. This is why 2007 feels so long ago. If you are placed as the best team in school history, at some point you’ll have to drop from that placement, and I got to watch them drop first-hand. It went from 12-1 to 0-12 within the span of eight years, and the line down from that was fairly straight, aside from a few 3-9 hiccups during my first years in college.

Watching those highlights of Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins on the big screen was weird for me, because I had seen them before, in person. I remember Aqib as the guy who would leap up in the air and catch interceptions with his torso before sprinting to the other endzone. Mangino would line him up as a wide receiver at points, too. He was so versatile, I knew we were watching somebody with a future, and that turned out to be right. (In fact, I stood near the team before halftime, and his Super Bowl ring is really impressive). But I don’t remember a lot of those specific highlights, I just remember the player, the number 3 jerseys in the bookstore, and eventually the guy who became the best defensive back in professional football.

Celebrating the 2007 team is bittersweet. Those memories are lucid, but they’re so very far away now – Ten years, four head coaches, and a slow, disappointing collapse away.

I can still find ten year old highlight compilations of Aqib Talib on Youtube with one search. They’re all from 2007, too. I can find highlight compilations of Chris Harris, Bradley MacDougald, Ben Heeney, and any other KU player who went on to play in the National Football League after him. This year, I’m seeing compilations of Steven Sims, Dorance Armstrong, and Daniel Wise. I have the feeling that they have professional futures as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Air Raid

The first two offensive drives from the Jayhawks were impressive. I don’t really know how to break down Xs and Os – unless we’re talking about the song from Rob Schneider’s daughter from two years ago – but look at how much faster Steven Sims Jr. is than anyone else here

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This is nice, it’s good to have a player who is just better than the other team’s players. Kansas hasn’t had a 1000+ yard receiver since Dezmon Briscoe had 1337 yards in 2009 (speaking of the internet in 2007), but if it’s going to be anybody to break that mark again, it’s going to be Steven Sims Jr. He’s got the speed to beat defenders after the catch, the athleticism to beat defenders in getting to the ball, and the hands to actually make the grabs, which all seem like necessary things but let me tell you, it’s been a while since there’s been a guy with all of those qualities at KU. Steven Sims Jr. is the truth.

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This catch, by Chase Harrell, is probably the best catch I’ve seen with my own eyes. There is a void left by Quiv Gonzalez post-dismissal, and a good number of guys stepped up to fill it. This is an excellent pass by Peyton Bender, who put the ball where only the one hand that Harrell extended could get to it but the defender didn’t have a shot at it.

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I know this is the Southeast Missouri State defense and not a Big XII or MAC defense, but Bender really made some great throws in this game. He made some mistakes as well, but the highlights here are incredible. This pass to Jeremiah Booker – who really impressed me after not seeing much of him since 2015 – is exemplary of the patience and communication with receivers that Bender brings. The time that Bender takes in lofting this ball in the air, trusting that Booker will be exactly where he needs to be to get in front of the corner gets me excited to see what this team will do in the coming weeks.

Yes, this will be different against good defenses like TCU’s and K-State’s, but the point of games like this is to get players the opportunity to play their best and instill confidence in the coming weeks, and Peyton Bender, at his best, did just that in this game.

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The post run by Ben Johnson on this play is immaculate, too. 

Do we have a run game this year?

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One running touchdown is not bad at all, but I recognize that KU had troubles in finding lanes all game. SEMO seemed to sell out on stopping the run, which sort of worked outside of the above play. Luckily for Bender and KU, this left a lot of one on one coverage on the outsides of the field, and the Jayhawks were able to exploit this.

I like Dom Williams, but I’m not ready to make my “FRIENDSHIP ENDED WITH DOM DWYER, NOW DOM WILLIAMS IS MY FAVORITE PERSON NAMED DOM” image yet. He’s got talent, and the offensive line looked better during this game. They didn’t allow but one sack on Peyton Bender, and when Williams got space, he was able to get work done. There’s not enough evidence to make a solid statement on the run-game yet, and that’s due to the fact that KU didn’t really try to run the ball all that much. Perhaps they won’t try to run the ball all that much during the season, either, but that leaves something to be seen.

And regarding the defense…

The two dudes side-by-side at the bottom right of the image in Reesing jerseys infused my brain with that Sammy Hagar song every time I looked down their way.

Defensively, KU played well enough to only allow sixteen points. This was okay, except the SEMO kicker missed an extra point that would’ve made the final score 17-38, which significantly damaged my enjoyment of the game.

The KU pass rush only had one sack, by Daniel Wise, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an impact. Dorance Armstrong’s pursuit forced the SEMO quarterback to hurry up and throw on the run multiple times, ending many pass plays with the ball hitting the turf about five yards in front of receivers. Having a rush that can force quarterbacks to make mistakes like that will help out the young secondary. More sacks will, hopefully, follow.

Joe Dineen was looking like Ben Heeney out there in pursuit. Dineen is crucial to this defense, and he was the best defensive player for the Jayhawks in this game. Outside of him, Wise, Armstrong, and Josh Ehambe, who picked up a fumble off a bad snap late in the game, not many players made stand-out plays on the Jayhawk defense.

The mood in memorial stadium went from jubilant, to dominant, to worried, to nostalgic, to incredibly bored because the third quarter took like an hour to finish, to overall content by the end of this game. This wasn’t a blowout like Rhode Island was last year, and that’s okay. This year’s projections should be much more measured than last year’s after that game, because the talent gap didn’t wallpaper over the very real issues that faced the Jayhawks in this game.

The game next week against Central Michigan won’t be a blowout if KU ends up winning it. The Jayhawks and the Chippewas might be evenly matched (Even though CMU needed two overtimes to defeat Rhode Island on Thursday night). I was far too optimistic last year about KU’s second game, and I don’t want to fall into that trap again, but I will say that if the Jayhawks come out and play their best game, they will be better than Central Michigan at home.

This game got me… tentatively excited. I’m not, like, excited, excited, but there were some high points. They just barely overshot my expectation on offense and undershot my expectation on defense (my final prediction on 4th and Inches this week was 35-10). I don’t know if I learned anything or not, the tough education will have to come next week. KU’s either going to win next week’s game by ten or lose by twenty.

Having so many fans out at the stadium Saturday night was tremendous. Hearing a crowd getting loud and getting excited for Kansas football does make me nostalgic, because unfortunately it hasn’t been that way as of recent. The ‘hawks need that next weekend, so if you’re reading this in the Lawrence area, you should try to make it out to the game. This team has the potential to be exciting and victorious, and if they can keep it up, they deserve a big fanbase to come see them.

I didn’t even think of it until Sunday morning, but there really wasn’t a chant at the end of the game. A lot of people had left after or during the Twilight Zone episode of a third quarter that never ended in the midst of a game that was already well-decided. To be fair, there hasn’t been a chant-worthy game really outside of Rhode Island since 2014, and the people who were freshmen that year are seniors this year. The majority of students might just genuinely not know that the student section sings the Rock Chalk chant at the end of the fourth quarter during wins anymore, which is a sad, but truthful and understandable event to happen to Kansas Football in 2017.

It’ll come back. Things like that tend to happen. We don’t have a culture of winning in football right now, so we don’t know how to act when we do anymore. This was the first win since CMU in 2014 where nobody tried to rush the field at the end of the game. The phrase “act like you’ve been there before” is used by people who don’t know what it’s like to never get there. I have reason to believe that they’ll be there soon.

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I’ll see you on Saturday.

All clips have been taken from the Big XII Conference’s YouTube Channel because I am still bad at figuring out how to make good GIFs in Photoshop, but I’m working on it. The first segment title reads awkwardly because it’s a Los Campesinos! reference and I’m a self-indulgent shit. I know I’m not supposed to take pictures from the stands but it never stopped me from playing so I feel like I’m alright.


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