LAWRENCE, Kan. — Charlie Weis has been waiting for a signature moment, one that he could look back upon as the time when his rebuilding job at Kansas finally moved to a different level.
He thinks it just may have come on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon.
The Jayhawks were tied 10-all with Louisiana Tech in the waning minutes of their final non-conference game. The Bulldogs were driving for a go-ahead score. Suddenly, Weis saw the ball pop out onto the artificial turf, and one of his big defensive linemen pick it up.
Instead of facing down its 23rd straight loss to a Football Bowl Subdivision team, Kansas had some hope. Just over 90 seconds later, walk-on kicker Matthew Wyman booted a 52-yard field goal as time expired to give the Jayhawks a dramatic 13-10 victory.
“I’d like to win every game by four touchdowns and breathe easy. I’m too old, I’m in crummy shape — I don’t need that,” Weis said. “But I tell you what: That might be the best thing that happens to our team, winning a game like that. That might be the best thing.”
That’s because it was precisely the kind of game Kansas has failed to win.
While going 1-11 in Weis’ first season, the Jayhawks gave up the final 12 points in a 25-24 loss to Rice; the final 17 points in a 30-23 loss to Northern Illinois; two fourth-quarter TDs in a 21-17 loss to Texas; and an two overtime touchdowns in a 41-34 loss to Texas Tech.
Just last week, the Jayhawks (2-1) led their rematch with Rice heading into the fourth quarter, but surrendered the final 10 points in a 24-13 defeat.
“I talked about last week’s disappointment. I felt it was a big difference between being disappointed and, ‘Oh well. We lost a close one,”’ Weis said. “They were disappointed. They went there expecting to win and they didn’t. They came back this week in the tank a little early, they worked themselves out of the tank, and there are a lot of happy guys there now.”
There’s a happy coaching staff, too.
Weis finally won a game against an FBS opponent — his first two victories had come against the Football Championship Subdivision. In fact, it was the first win by Kansas over a peer since knocking off Northern Illinois on Sept. 10, 2011, when Turner Gill was still the coach.
“Who knows?” Weis said. “I’m kind of counting on us being able to look back at this game and say, ‘That was the game where we turned the corner.’ I’ve been waiting for that time.”
Indeed, rather than heading into a bye week on the heels of two straight losses, Kansas gets a week off brimming with confidence. They can heal up and get ready for a Big 12 race that is wide open, and which starts with Homecoming on Oct. 5 against Texas Tech.
“It felt real good,” said wide receiver Tony Pierson, who had nine receptions for 82 yards against the Bulldogs, none bigger than a 29-yard grab that got Kansas into field-goal range.
“We haven’t had one of those in a long time,” Pierson said. “We just kept our composure the whole time and we finished it off the right way.”
While the slide against FBS programs is out of the way, there are still plenty of streaks that the Jayhawks are eager to erase before the end of the season.
The Red Raiders will be their first chance to end a 21-game winless stretch against Big 12 opponents that dates to a win over now-departed member Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010. The following week, Kansas will head to TCU trying to end a 19-game road losing streak. If they can end both streaks, they might be positioned for their first bowl game since Dec. 31, 2008.
“We ain’t felt so good in a long time,” wide receiver Rodriguez Coleman said. “We just have to keep it up and handle business.”
Of course, Weis isn’t ready to think about bowl destinations just yet. He knows that there were plenty of miscues on Saturday, and that a win over Louisiana Tech isn’t quite the same as beating Oklahoma or Texas or one of the other conference bigwigs.
But he also knows that success has been hard to come by at Kansas. Might as well enjoy it.
“It was far from a perfect game. There were a lot of times you sit there and say, ‘Oh, God!’ You’re grasping sometimes to find an answer,” Weis said. “But right now I’m happy for all of us, but I’m most happy for those kids. I really am.”