Les Miles has long insisted his first-year Kansas football squad would play meaningful games into November.
Saturday may have been the last of those for the suddenly struggling Jayhawks.
Three different KU quarterbacks threw interceptions in the team’s eventual 31-13 defeat Saturday to No. 25 Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., an outcome that dropped the Jayhawks (3-7, 1-6 Big 12) out of contention for what would’ve been the program’s first non-losing season since 2009.
The defeat also all but eliminated Miles’ squad from postseason eligibility — not only would KU need to win its final two contests, but it also must hope there is an insufficient number of teams with records of 6-6 or better when bowl selections are made.
The Cowboys (7-3, 4-3) were never really challenged Saturday, jumping out to a 31-0 lead. OSU racked up 24 first downs in the contest, with the Jayhawk offense only coming to life in garbage time — Stephon Robinson and Quan Hampton caught 14- and 9-yard touchdowns, respectively, from Carter Stanley, both fourth-quarter scores.
“Well, you know, we start that stuff earlier and this team feels a lot differently today,” Miles said in his postgame radio interview. “We’ve got to work. We’ve got to go back to work. We’ve got to start again. We do that and we find that team that has scoring drives, we’ll be fine.”
Miles, who coached at OSU from 2001-04, tried to keep his team upbeat as he spoke in the defeated visitor’s locker room.
“When I went in and talked to them, I told them, ‘Listen: You’re going to have to make a decision, the guy that sits in your chair, to do and be a better football player and work hard at it,' " Miles said. "If you do that, we play two more games, you can have team joy and have victory twice.’ ”
Saturday’s contest was defined in its first three quarters by mighty struggles by the KU offense.
Stanley threw a second-quarter interception and was benched at halftime, then returned in the fourth quarter to finish a 22-for-37 afternoon for 226 yards, two touchdowns and the pick. Senior walk-on Manny Miles, who relieved Stanley in the third quarter, led three drives, which ended with a pair of punts and an interception. Thomas MacVittie also threw a pick on a trick play.
After the game, Les Miles said the senior Stanley will retain the starting job, describing the decision to bench him at the intermission as an attempt at a change of pace.
Perhaps more surprising were the struggles of standout running back Pooka Williams. A preseason All-Big 12 selection, Williams carried the ball 12 times for just 26 yards, part of a Jayhawk rushing attack that had 24 totes for only 39 yards.
Despite the KU offense’s inefficiency, the Cowboys managed just three points off those three turnovers. Two of OSU's scores were long-range bombs — a 51-yard connection from quarterback Spencer Sanders to Dillon Stoner that made the margin 21-0, and a 43-yarder from Dru Brown to Stoner that pushed the lead to 31-0.
OSU star running back Chuba Hubbard was mostly held in check, at least by his own lofty standards, but still finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
KU travels to Iowa State for an 11 a.m. Nov. 23 contest, then plays host to Baylor for a Nov. 30 season finale.
“There’s no Cleveland Browns or Green Bay Packer team back there,” Les Miles said. “We can play and play with those guys and get a victory.”