LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) For one quarter, Kansas looked like everything its fans hoped it would be when Charlie Weis was hired two years ago, racing to a 24-point lead against Southeast Missouri State.
The final three quarters, the Jayhawks looked a lot like they have the past two years.
An offense that had been humming like a Ferrari started to sound like a beat up Pinto. A defense that resembled an iron gate suddenly looked like tissue paper. And a rebuilding program from the Football Championship Subdivision nearly pulled off a dramatic fourth-quarter rally.
Kansas managed to hold on for a 34-28 victory in its season opener Saturday night, but the uneven performance – some good and some very bad – left Weis with a conundrum: Highlight those first 15 minutes and build up confidence in his players, or show them tape of the final 45 and remind all of them that they have a long ways to go to reach respectability.
”I might come in and say, `Here’s the first quarter. Now tell me which team you’re not going to have a chance of playing with if you played like that,”’ Weis said. ”Would I have liked to end the game, to have kept it going in the same direction? I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t true. But the first quarter went pretty much how you choreographed it.”
The Jayhawks scored on their first four possessions, a field goal by Matt Wyman followed by three quick touchdowns. Freshman running back Corey Avery scored the first of them, and sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart hit senior transfer Nick Harwell for the other two.
Avery finished with 91 yards, showing the kind of speed that the Jayhawks haven’t had under Weis, while junior college transfer De’Andre Mann ran for 121 yards on just 15 carries.
The pair of newcomers made many folks forget about seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, who were atop the depth chart before they sustained season-ending injuries just one day apart.
”It felt great,” Mann said. ”I wanted some more, but it still is a great feeling.”
Cozart was 8 of 11 by halftime, and added a 67-yard touchdown strike to Tony Pierson in the third quarter. While he finished just 12 of 24 for 196 yards, Cozart also flashed a strong arm and swift legs that gave the Kansas offense a wrinkle it hasn’t had the past few years.
”There are definitely some learning points for me, personally, and for the team as a whole,” Cozart said. ”I felt like we came out great, going up 24-0.”
After that? Well, things bogged down in a hurry.
Southeast Missouri State played the Jayhawks to a scoreless stalemate in the second quarter, and then struck first with a touchdown run to start the second half. But it wasn’t until the final quarter rolled around that the few fans in Memorial Stadium had reason to get antsy.
First was a 37-yard touchdown pass. A few minutes later, a 68-yard scoring strike. And after a couple of possessions fizzled out, the Redhawks hit again on a 26-yard touchdown pass.
It wasn’t until the Jayhawks recovered the onside kick that Weis could exhale.
”Pass efficiency in the first half was good. We ran the ball well most of the night. I didn’t like that we were stopped on third and fourth down and a yard, which is an area of concern,” Weis said. ”When we watch the tape there will be plenty of things we like and plenty we don’t like.”
The line of demarcation falls nicely between the first and second quarters, too.
”Hats off to them, they played great down the stretch,” said Jayhawks linebacker Ben Heeney, a senior. ”We just have to stop playing down to our opponent. We come out on fire in the first half and we just, I don’t want to say play down to our opponent because they played a good game down the stretch – it’s just something we have to fix.”