It was only a kickoff return. A 99-yard kickoff return from Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill which, in due time, proved to be the game-winner for the Cowboys’ in their 27-20 win over Kansas at Memorial Stadium.
The kickoff return which kept Clint Bowen from winning his first game as interim coach of the University of Kansas Jayhawks football team. A kickoff return which kept KU from taking down Oklahoma State for the first time since 2007, and a ranked opponent since 2010. Most importantly, it was the kickoff return that served as the difference between quarterback Michael Cummings’ first career win as a starter in the crimson and blue. The kickoff return was the one-possession hitch that couldn’t be hurdled Cummings and the offense in the closing minute’s of Saturday’s loss.
Cummings finished his first start since 2012 with 288 yards and an interception on 20-of-37 passing. The passing yards were the most by a Kansas quarterback since Dayne Crist threw for 303 yards against Texas Christian in Sept. 2012, and accuracy was a bit watered down by receiver drops and a few sluggish streaks. By no means was is an eye-popping, congratulatory performance by Cummings. The Jayhawks still lost. But going away from usual starter Montell Cozart was a breath of fresh air for the Jayhawks football team.
Cummings finished with more passing yards than Cozart had in any of his five starts this season, and, as a whole, outperformed him. Jayhawks fans saw Cummings stretch the field which Cozart never did, able to zone in on and hit his targets, even when they found themselves beyond the safeties. He made all the short throws too, including getting the ball in tight end Jimmay Mundine’s hands five times for 88 yards. On top of Mundine, he found Nick Harwell seven times for 91 yards, a high for the Jayhawks in single-game receptions this season.
The former three-star recruit tried to do a bit too much on his feet, rushing for -2 yards on 11 attempts, but the many designed runs proved that the coaching staff will continue to give Cummings — like they did Cozart — chances to run. Despite the superior play, Bowen has refused to name a starter for next Saturday’s game against Texas Tech.
“We don’t ever give jobs away,” Bowen said. “Every week, every position, they will earn them.”
Jayhawks fans should hope that is only coach-speak from the interim in his press conference after the game. The redshirt junior did plenty enough to justify another start under-center for the Jayhawks this coming Saturday against Texas Tech. In a press conference early last week, Bowen stated he wanted a quarterback — regardless of whether it was Cozart, Cummings, or sophomore T.J. Milweard — who would make solid decisions and control what the quarterback can control. Cozart failed to do that in most of his time under-center, while Cummings did just that, and gave the team a chance to win the game at the end, though the upset big fell just short. That chance to win at the end of the game against a ranked opponent might just be that breath of fresh air the team has caught with Cummings.
“He brought what we wanted out that position: some leadership, some toughness, a guy people could rally around,” Bowen said of Cummings. “ It’s not always pretty. Kind of a junk-yard dog type quarterback.”
KU travels to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech this Saturday in what be the team’s most opportune time to snag a Big 12 win this season. Following the Red Raiders, the Jayhawks will come up against four teams who are currently ranked in their final five contests, their only non-ranked opponent being the Iowa State Cyclones.
Though Bowen’s post-game coach jargon might mask the truth, it’s clear: Cummings is the guy that should be under-center for the Jayhawks, and, for now, it’s not a debate. This quarterback led the Jayhawks — the same exact team that didn’t score a single point against Texas and only completed four passes in an embarrassing loss at the hands of West Virgnia — to within a possession of No. 16 Oklahoma State. After being recruited out of Texas by Turner Gill, wearing a redshirt, getting only a few starts in 2012 before sitting on the bench in almost all of 2013, Cummings couldn’t be more ready for this role.
Fans know it, the media knows it, and Cummings himself knows that this is his time. It’s his job to lose.
“I would pick me,” Cummings said. “But I’m not a coach, so we’re going to go out this week and compete as well.”