That’s what happened after Kansas won its season opener against South Dakota State, 31-17, last Saturday. After 10 straight losses to close the 2011 season, the Jayhawks had reason for good cheer after their win. Now, KU looks to build on Week One and celebrate again with a victory against Rice on Saturday. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium with the game televised on Fox Sports Net.
While there were some positives on offense, defense and special teams against South Dakota State, KU also struggled in the passing and kicking game, gave up some big plays, allowed a sack, and only completed 5 of 17 third-down conversions.
KU coach Charlie Weis hopes to get these issues and more corrected in Week 2.
“I think once you get the first game of the way, there’s so many things you can fix once there’s evidence of that on tape,” Weis said. “We’re a brand new team, brand new staff, you’re blending together kids who were here, kids who weren’t here. It’s all new. I think the more these guys start to play against an opponent together, the improvement should be significant. I’m expecting with many players and many positions, for them to play a lot better this week than they played last week.”
Rice also looks to improve over its season-opening 49-24 loss to UCLA at home on Aug. 30. The Owls, who trailed 19-0 early in the game, rallied to cut the lead to 29-24 with just over a minute to play before halftime. However, the Bruins dominated the second half and won easy. UCLA had some big running plays and amassed 368 rushing yards.
On a positive note, Rice linebacker Cameron Nwosu set an NCAA record with three PAT blocks in the game, while recording nine tackles and an interception. Dual-threat quarterback Taylor McHargue led the Rice offense with 95 yards rushing while completing 17 of 28 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. McHargue, Nwosu, and cornerback Bryce Callahan (he led all FBS freshmen last season with six interceptions and ranked second in passes defended with 15) are three of 11 starters returning from last season’s 4-8 team.
Weis knows the Jayhawks must contain McHargue with his do-it all skills.
“I think everything with their offense starts with them,” Weis said.
While KU’s offense against South Dakota State was spearheaded by running backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox (they both rushed for over 100 yards), Weis hopes to get senior quarterback Dayne Crist untracked in Week 2. Crist showed some nerves in his season debut, completing only 17 of 36 passes for 169 yards with one interception and one TD.
Weis, who grades all of his players after each game, talked in general terms of how Crist graded out.
“No one gets graded harder than the quarterback,” Weis said. “His parents would not have been happy had he brought that grade home.”
Crist wasn’t happy with his play, but above all was pleased with the win. He believes his mistakes were a teaching moment and that he’ll improve his passing accuracy against Rice.
“I know I can play much better, and I’m excited for the opportunity to get better this week in practice and go out and show it on Saturday,” Crist said.
Crist is looking for the entire offense to play better against Rice than they did versus South Dakota State.
“I think the most important thing is playing more efficient,” Crist said. “Too many mental errors, too many points left on the field, too many missed plays. At the end of the day, we got to be more efficient. I think that starts in practice, so we got to have a great sense of urgency all week.”
The Jayhawks know Rice will play with a great sense of urgency and be extra hungry after its season-opening loss to UCLA.
“They’re a competitive team,” senior tight end Mike Ragone said. “They’re going to bring it so we got to be ready just like we were for South Dakota State. It’s going to be a dogfight from the first quarter to the fourth quarter.”
Look for KU “to be ready” against a better opponent in Week 2 and come out with its second straight win. But this one goes down to the final minutes with Kansas prevailing, 24-21.