The stage was set. Following last Saturday’s stunning victory over Texas Tech on a field goal as time expired, the Kansas football team’s next task would involve a throw down with its in-state rival.
Entering Saturday on a 10-game losing skid to Kansas State, the Jayhawks were presented an opportunity. For the better part of a decade, the Wildcats came to Lawrence and left without much struggle for victory. But on this day, the scene presumed to be different. Before the 117th annual Sunflower Showdown, it was announced that Memorial Stadium would be sold out — a feat not accomplished since the 2009 season.
Sophomore linebacker Jay Dineen, a local kid, recalls seeing crowds like this as a fan.
“I remember coming to these games when [the crowd] was like that,” Dineen said on the attendance. “To be able to play in front of those fans, it's awesome.”
As students piled in sporting crimson attire, the atmosphere felt different. The buzz generated from the recent success had given Jayhawk fans a reason to stand proudly behind their football program.
In past seasons, when facing Kansas State, a victory would’ve earned the Jayhawks bragging rights in an otherwise lost season. The idea of coming out on top against their rival would’ve cured all the doubt and negativity that typically defined Kansas football. However, on Saturday, far more than bragging rights were at stake.
A win over the Wildcats would not only bring the murmurs of bowl eligibility into the light, but more importantly, it would firmly answer the question if coach Les Miles had changed the culture in year one in Lawrence.
Those murmurs, however, would quickly turn to silence.
“We had teed up a great opponent with the opportunity to play extremely well,” Miles said. “And we did not start fast. It is something we are going to work on.”
In Kansas State’s 38-10 thrashing of the Jayhawks, senior quarterback Carter Stanley would throw two interceptions — tying a season high — and complete less than 60% of his passes.
The juggernaut offense that put up 85 combined points in the first two weeks under Brent Dearmon would score its only touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game.
Whatever advantages the Jayhawks’ had on paper were being stifled by a Wildcat team hunting for the sixth win that eluded them in coach Bill Snyder’s final year at the helm in 2018.
“They just came in and beat our ass,” junior wide receiver Andrew Parchment said. “There isn’t much else to say.”
As the clock trickled down and the purple became increasingly visible in the bleachers, the reality sunk in. Kansas State would hand the Jayhawks the same fate the teams’ before them endured.
The Mardi Gras type environment that was apparent at 2:30 p.m. was now reminiscent of a funeral home just three hours later. There was no sugarcoating it. When the opportunity came banging on the front door of Kansas, the Jayhawks kept the door locked.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Miles said. “[Kansas State] is pretty talented.”
Next weekend, Kansas will have a bye for the final time in the 2019 season. The Jayhawks’ next game is on Nov. 16 at Oklahoma State. Kickoff time is still to be determined.