LAWRENCE — Rocked at home in Saturday’s alarming Week 2 defeat, chalk awaited Kansas football players Tuesday.
A simple statement of encouragement appeared three days after the favored Jayhawks’ deflating 45-27 defeat to Central Michigan at Memorial Stadium, chalked on the sidewalk just outside the entrance of nearby Anderson Family Football Complex.
“We still believe,” the message read. “God bless Kansas.”
Presumably left by a fan, the statement could have just as easily been left by third-year coach David Beaty, who remained upbeat Tuesday despite the grim outlook some outside the Jayhawks’ home facility have adopted.
“We’re still a good football team,” Beaty said. “That’s the thing I’m excited about. We’re still a good football team. Nothing’s changed. We’re not panicking. We learned a lot. It stinks, but sometimes you learn that way.”
As Saturday’s loss revealed, there appears no shortage of subjects for the Jayhawks (1-1) to go to school on.
The KU secondary, arguably the biggest question mark heading into the season, was torched by graduate transfer quarterback Shane Morris to the tune of 467 yards and five touchdowns. The defensive line, thought by some to be the team’s deepest unit, has one sack through two games and tallied one quarterback hurry against the Chippewas. Quarterback Peyton Bender, who won the job in fall camp, battled inaccuracy in Week 2 and completed only 32 of a program-record 62 pass attempts, adding two interceptions.
“I know our guys are embarrassed,” Beaty said. “They’re also prideful. They’re a group that is resilient and they’re ready to get back on that field. There’s no panic here. We see what happened on the video. I think we’re going to be able to move forward.”
That program-wide embarrassment, the KU coach added, might have a silver lining.
“I mean, they personally were embarrassed because they know they can be better and they will be better,” Beaty said. “That ain’t a bad thing, to be embarrassed sometimes when things don’t go right. You take full responsibility for your play when you’re involved. Just the way it is.”
Asked whether he agreed with Beaty’s statement that embarrassment can sometimes lead to refocusing, junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong needed a few seconds to craft his response.
“I don’t like to be embarrassed, but I know for a fact that game wasn’t our team, you know,” Armstrong said. “We were sluggish throughout the entire game kind of. It’s just kind of a lack of focus going into the game which put us behind, and that’s just not how we are. We’ll come out better than that.”
The Jayhawks’ first opportunity to show what Armstrong called the team’s true identity will come at 11 a.m. Saturday against Ohio (1-1) in Athens, where KU will look to break a staggering streak of 41 consecutive true road defeats that dates back to 2009.
Though not left in chalk, sophomore safety Mike Lee delivered his own message Tuesday morning via Twitter — “You bet(ter) not give up,” he wrote, “(T)hat’s what they want you to do!!”
“They have a lot of people in this world waiting on you to just give up,” Lee explained. “I’ll use me as an example, all right: I’m playing football right now, I’m doing good and all that stuff. People ready for me to just be like, ‘I quit football.’ They would be happy because I said that. That’s why I said what I said.”
The message, he admitted, was as much for his teammates as anyone else.
“We’ve just got to have that savage attitude, like, don’t worry about what people think of us,” Lee said. “Just whatever happens stays in here. Don’t worry about what people are saying outside because they’re just trying to get in your head.
“So we’re really not worried about that. We’re worried about focus and just playing through the season and seeing how far we go.”
SIMS PROBABLE; HOLANI QUESTIONABLE — Beaty said he thinks star wide receiver Steven Sims, who was shut down early in Saturday’s loss with a nagging right ankle injury, will be available against Ohio.
“He seems to be doing a lot better,” Beaty said. “I think he’ll be fine.”
Sims, who had four receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, tried to play through the pain against Central Michigan but said he knew early on it wasn’t ready to go. He said the injury is getting better day-by-day and he should know more later this week.
The junior said he doesn’t know when the initial injury occurred but added he felt something weird during practice last week. Watching the team lose from the sideline wasn’t easy, he added.
“Just ’cause I couldn’t do anything,” Sims continued. “I felt I couldn’t help the team at all. It sucked, so I’m trying to get back as soon as I can.”
The team is still waiting on the prognosis on senior defensive tackle Isi Holani, who was injured in Saturday’s loss.
“Based on just my talking with him today and seeing him,” Beaty said, “I don’t know if he’ll be available or not.”
BALDWIN FALLS OFF DEPTH CHART — Junior offensive lineman Charles Baldwin is not listed on the Jayhawks’ third depth chart, replaced at second-string right tackle by 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior Zach Hannon.
Hannon, a Nebraska transfer, Kansas City, Mo., native and Rockhurst product, was mostly a special teams contributor for the Cornhuskers.
“The story there is Zach,” Beaty said. “It’s Zach. It’s not Charles. That’s not the story.”
It’s the latest letdown for Baldwin, an Alabama transfer and former five-star prospect who has struggled to gain traction at KU. The move is not disciplinary, Beaty said, adding that Baldwin simply “hasn’t won those positions.”
“One of these days we’ll get off the fact that Charles came from Alabama,” Beaty said. “I mean, c’mon. That lasts for about two minutes, then it’s about what you do, right? Nothing against Charles, but Zach has done a terrific job, you know?”