LAWRENCE — Carter Stanley is once again the center of attention at Kansas.
For proof of that, just follow his teammates’ eyes this week.
“Right now after the kind of performance where we know we’re better than what we put on the field today, I think the guys are going to look to us for answers,” Stanley said following the Jayhawks’ 65-19 defeat to Texas Tech on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. “I think we need to respond.”
Emphasis on “us” and “we.”
Stanley, thrust into the spotlight for the first time this season after quarterbacking the entire second half of Saturday’s loss, was discussing the importance of leadership out of the program’s quarterbacks — yes, plural, as Stanley is now firmly embroiled in a suddenly reopened competition for the starting gig with Peyton Bender, who held that role for the season’s first five games.
KU coach David Beaty declined to name Bender the starter for the Jayhawks’ (1-4, 0-2 Big 12) next contest, an 11 a.m. Saturday clash with Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.
“We’ll have to watch the tape,” Beaty said. “I mean, it’s going to be a competition, so we’ll see.”
Neither signal-caller was particularly effective against the Red Raiders.
Bender finished 12-for-24 passing for 146 yards, one touchdown and one interception — the latter two totals representing his eighth of each on the season. The 6-foot-1 junior struggled again with short-to-intermediate throws, missing on second- and third-and-goal passes from the 4-yard line late in the first half.
Beaty believed Bender “didn’t have a great feel” for Saturday’s game. During the break, offensive coordinator Doug Meacham informed Stanley he would get the entire second half.
“There was a point in there where, man, I look up and we probably could’ve been (down) 35-28 had we converted on all of those touchdown situations,” said Beaty, whose Jayhawks got within 16 in the second half. “Now, that is disappointing, obviously, that you can’t convert on those. That kills you.”
Bender shouldered blame for the inaccuracy near the goal line, calling the misses “two throws I should’ve completed.”
“I was ready to go back in, but it’s not my call,” Bender said. “The coaches are going to do what they think is best for the team, and today that was going with Carter. I’m not discouraged by it. I think it’ll maybe make me work a little harder this week to make sure that I can put myself in the best position to succeed.”
Lack of assignment-sound play, Bender said, led to the offense’s poor showing in the first half, a period which saw KU punt three times, turn it over on downs twice and lose possession on a Bender pick.
“I think a lot of times we’re playing with nine or 10 guys and we aren’t playing with the full 11,” Bender said. “If one or two guys are missing their assignment, then it’s hard to execute a play. I think we’ve got to get all 11 guys doing the same thing to really start clicking on offense.
“(It’s) no one in particular. It’s just kind of, ‘Well, this guy messed up here, but he doesn’t mess up on any other plays, but on that one he happened to ruin it. Then it’s maybe another guy a few more plays down the road. We’ve just got to get more consistent.”
Stanley, who played sparingly in the first half, completed 11 of 19 pass attempts for 110 yards and an interception on a tipped ball. The 6-2 sophomore finished last season as KU’s starter and was behind center for the Jayhawks’ upset victory over Texas, which remains the team’s most recent victory over an FBS-level opponent.
“I don’t think today was a good reflection of where we’re at as a team,” Stanley said. “We know we left a lot out there in all three phases of the game. We’re better than that.”
Limited by a break in his right hand earlier this season, Stanley said he is 100 percent and welcomes the opportunity to again compete for the starting role.
“I don’t think it’s going to change anything for me or Peyton,” Stanley said. “I think we bring it every week in practice. I think we’ve got to bounce back for sure, so it might be amplified, but we’ve just got to do our normal thing.”
The absence of a quarterback controversy had been just about the only thing separating this season’s KU squad with last year’s version, where the team juggled Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis before settling on Stanley for the season’s final three games.
Now, there appears to be nothing separating the eerily similar campaigns — other than the considerable hype this year’s version entered with that appears to have completely evaporated.
“It’s one of those deals where we’re evaluating them every day anyway,” Beaty said of his quarterbacks. “You’re only as good as your next. It doesn’t matter who you are. You’d like to have some consistency there, but hey, listen, the truth is you’ve got to go with who you see in practice and how they’re progressing.”