Jayhawks Unruffled In Close Battles

Oct. 7, 2009

In this day and age in college football, there’s no room for a team to be complacent. A team can prepare well week in and week out, but if it takes things for granted, it may dig itself into a hole, and one that is difficult to get out of.

In the case of a Kansas football team that found itself down 20-0 at halftime in Ames, Iowa last year, the recipe for overcoming the surprising deficit was poise.

Senior wide receiver Kerry Meier remembers how calm the atmosphere was at halftime. Walking up the ramp to visiting team’s locker room, Meier envisioned how loud it was going to be. Turns out everyone in the locker room stayed unruffled and focused on executing in the second half.

“Coach was very calm, collected, relaxed and under control,” Meier said. “And I think that the way the situation was handled best was, ‘We’re under control, not by any means stressed.'”

Behind the play of Meier, Jake Sharp and Todd Reesing on offense scoring on five of six drives, the Jayhawks orchestrated the third-largest comeback in school history, pulling out a 35-33 victory.

In situations like Iowa State where the team was down or in close games, junior nickel back Justin Thornton said he counted on the team leadership. Thornton also counted on the team’s experienced players to stay focused and pull it together in the second half.

“All the guys that were in that situation last year, if something like that were to happen again, we would know how to handle ourselves,” Thornton said. “Not to dwell on last season, but it was good for us to be able to experience a game like that, to be down at half, knowing that we have it in us to make a comeback.”

It’s no cakewalk for these players to keep their poise. As a leader on the team, senior safety Darrell Stuckey said at times it was tough to stay poised.

“There is a lot of thinking involved in the game, a lot of things you have to do, and a lot of weight on your shoulders, but at the same time you can’t ever let the team see you not poised, not focused, flustered, or not believing,” Stuckey said. “When you’re down and your back is against the wall, there is nothing you can do but rely on each other.”

Head coach Mark Mangino said he had presented last year’s Iowa State game as an example of what happens when a team showed up not ready to play and not mentally sharp. Mangino found out what kind of courage his football team had in the second half when the players stayed calm and never panicked. The Jayhawks played two totally different halves.

“If you don’t show up ready to play or you take your opponent for granted, you’re going to get stung,” Mangino said. “We were fortunate our kids showed a lot of poise to come back in the second half.”

With Kansas’ first game that came down to the wire against Southern Miss, Stuckey said he thought that Mangino and the players stayed calm and collected.

“He made sure he said what he needed to say to players when they made mistakes, but at the same time he was the first one to root them on and tell them they did a great job too,” Stuckey said.

No. 16 AP/No. 15 Coaches Kansas looks to make it five straight wins over the Cyclones in its Big 12 Conference opener this Saturday. Kick-off for the Jayhawks homecoming game is set for 11:30 a.m. at Memorial Stadium.