LAWRENCE — Thank Jimmy Le for some of your Wednesday morning soundtrack, and for the song that may still be stuck in your head, if you were anywhere near the practice field outside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium that day. .
According to Kansas football offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, Le, the team’s video director, deserves credit for John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” blasting out as the Jayhawks practiced. It was entirely on purpose, Kotelnicki explained, that the song played in the days leading up to Kansas’ game Saturday at West Virginia. When the Jayhawks are preparing for road environments, this is the kind of thing they’re going to do.
But whether it’s junior quarterback Jalon Daniels or others on the roster, the Mountaineers’ turn to focus came days before and shortly after last Friday’s win against Tennessee Tech. Because Kansas (1-0) is entering the Big 12 Conference game with this game in West Virginia (0-1). Because regardless of the outcome, it comes with a heightened level of competition and a chance to show that even more progress is being made in the second year of Jayhawks head coach Lance Leipold’s rebuild.
“They are understanding that conference games are going to be a little bit different than playing an FCS game at home now, but that this is a different football team than we were a year ago for the better,” Leipold said, speaking of the confidence. that your team has is “But you also know that this is probably going to be a big test on the way to truly assessing where we are early, okay? It’s not going to be a life and death question of where we are or where we’re going. But it will be a step along the way.”
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Leipold was encouraged, on Friday after the game, to see that this was the mentality that the players in his locker room were emulating. He was shocked to realize that there were even guys who don’t normally talk who got involved like that. For him, it showed the maturity of him to understand that there is room to enjoy the top of Tennessee Tech and accept the reality that the challenges they will face will increase significantly very soon.
Kansas is an underdog in this contest, and at this point probably only once, on Sept. 24 at home against Duke, again this year. The Jayhawks face a Mountaineers team that has a head coach in Neal Brown, who can’t seem to afford disappointment this week after a loss to an opponent at now No. 14 Pittsburgh last week. Kansas hasn’t even won a Big 12 opener since 2009.
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The players and coaches of this team are not responsible for the length of that drought. The bracket in 2022 is different in many ways from the one played in 2021. But it may be responsible for ending it despite the less-than-ideal timing of the conference opener in the second week of the season.
“Last year, I feel like we were able to handle a lot of adversity,” Daniels said. “As we start this season, I want to see what we are capable of doing under adversity, no matter when it is during the season. Just being able to go out there and being able to see how we handle it when it doesn’t go our way.”
Sophomore cornerback Cobee Bryant feels the Jayhawks are ready for this test because of the work they’ve put in this offseason. He pointed to the dedication they have shown under director of athletic performance Matt Gildersleeve. Bryant said Gildersleeve would tell them all that effort, the little things, matter and will translate on the field.
And even if the trip back to Lawrence comes with a loss, that doesn’t mean Kansas hasn’t passed the test. Progress, it’s really what this season is about for a show that just two years ago in 2020 didn’t win a game. Progress, such as how much more competitive the Jayhawks were in the final three games of last season, including a one-possession loss against West Virginia, would prevent the deflation that a blowout loss could cause.
“To be able to show that we execute as an offense,” Daniels said, when asked what they wanted to accomplish besides walk away with a win. “That’s always the plan going into the game, being able to execute every play. There is no bad ball. That’s really our biggest emphasis every week. We want to be able to play the ball well, just be able to go out and execute.”
Bryant added: “This is like a test for us, are we ready or not? So we feel that we are working every day in practice to prepare for what is coming and what we must stop. Like, take away big plays.”
Jordan Guskey covers the University of Kansas athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.