MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A dozen years have passed since Kansas won multiple Big 12 games in a single season. Second-year head coach Les Miles arrived in Lawrence with great fanfare but clearly inherited a program with a long climb back to respectability.
After a pair of lopsided losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Jayhawks believe they are further along than their 0-3 record suggests.
“Everybody that came here knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Kansas running backs/special teams coach Jonathan Wallace. “But I believe in the men and women in this building to be able to put this program in a place to be successful. And we are going to work hard each and every day to achieve that and get this place to the top.”
Miles tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday and has been meeting virtually with his coaches and players throughout game week. He did not make the trip to Morgantown.
“Coach Miles is so popular among the players,” said Kansas defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot. “He is truly a players coach. It has kind of motivated them to make sure while he is away that they stay the course and continue to do the work to prepare for West Virginia.”
“Anytime the captain of your ship, anytime your leader isn’t visible, it is different,” said Kansas offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. “We are going to do everything we can to make it as normal as possible. There’s no issue at all, there is no controversy, Les Miles is the captain of this ship. Every coach, every player, everybody in the facility looks up to that guy and all that he brings to this football team.
“I am going to get a little bobblehead Coach Miles and put him on my shoulder. That way I feel like he is talking in my ear right there.”
Kansas is allowing a Big 12-worst 44 points per game and they have not forced a turnover.
“We have had some opportunities for takeaways and we haven’t finished,” Eliot said. “So we need to finish. We have dropped three interceptions this season and we have had three forced fumbles that we didn’t recover.
“We had thirteen dropped interceptions last year. If they kept stats on that we would have led the country in dropped interceptions. And that’s unfortunate. Throughout training camp and throughout this fall practice, we do ball drills with our linebackers and our defensive backs on a daily basis. One thing we have done to try to improve it is instead of having coaches throw the ball, we have transitioned to the ‘jugs’ machine.”
Miles Kendrick will be KU’s third starting quarterback in four games. The junior has completed 26-of-43 passes for 246 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in 2 games.
“In three games, we have played all three of them because of injury and because of other reasons,” Dearmon said. “I don’t think anybody has lost the job, but nobody has gone out there and won the job. That’s the fairest evaluation of that situation.”
The Jayhawks are looking for ways to spring Pooka Williams for more big plays. The two-time All-Big 12 selection is averaging 58.3 rushing yards per game.
“For Pooka, he is an electric player,” Dearmon said. “We’ve got to figure out ways to put the ball in his hands in unconventional fashion. Right now, we are not great at running the football. We are not great at throwing the football. I am trying to find a third part of an offense, outside of running it and throwing it, that we can find right now.”
“I feel like if we just stay the course and do what Coach Dearmon tells us to do, in our next game we could have like 30 or 40 (points),” said Kansas junior receiver Takulve Williams. “That’s my opinion for what I am watching on the film.”
The KU offense will go up against a Mountaineer defense (268 yards per game allowed) that is statistically the best in the Big 12 in the first month of the season.
“I see a lot of great defensive linemen,” said Kansas senior offensive lineman Api Mane. “They are very fast off the ball. But if the offensive line plays our perfect game, I believe we can do something with that.”
“I try my best, as fiery and as energetic as I am and as emotional as I am, I try my best not to be a panicker,” Dearmon said. “I try my best not to hit that red Office Depot panic button. I want our guys to know that we still believe in them. We have confidence in them and we are going to coach them up.”