Kansas fans wave small flags before the game against Oklahoma in Lawrence, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.
Kansas coach Lance Leipold has been very open about his tendency to focus on the negatives.
For example, after his team’s upset win over No. 6 Oklahoma, when he learned cornerback Quinton Lassiter wasn’t called for an interception on his out-of-bounds Hail Mary hit to Dylan Gabriel, Leipold said, “Thank goodness.”
While watching the play, he explained, “I’m thinking, why don’t we knock him down like I was yelling (at) them to knock him down, okay? That’s number 1. We’ll talk about this Monday.
But even he had to acknowledge the true gravity of Saturday’s victory. He said it was as good as any he had in Kansas.
“Normally I don’t, but right now I’m not in the mood to downplay this win,” he said, “for a lot of reasons.”
There are many retrospective ways in which this victory represents a milestone. First win over a top-10 team since 2008 Orange Bowl vs. Virginia Tech. First such win at home since 1984 – also against Oklahoma. In fact, KU hasn’t even beaten OU since 1997 in 18 tries, and now the Sooners are switching conferences next season: “It’s probably going to be a long, long time before OU plays KU again. To get the last one, especially for me, losing to them four times and getting that last one, it really feels pretty sweet,” tight end Mason Fairchild said.
The victory will also have some powerful implications in the present. The Jayhawks are bowl eligible in back-to-back years for the second time in history; both last season and this season, they defeated a ranked team to reach six wins. And this year, they didn’t have to endure a three-game losing streak with already five wins to get there.
“We’ve been sitting here for a long time, just trying to keep it even, doing these things, not talking about it, but you know what, it’s probably time to start talking about how proud I am of how far this program has come,” said Leipold. “Indeed there is, for a short while.”
The biggest implications of all, however, are those that could affect the Jayhawks’ distant future. On the same day they were on Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” show before the game for what host Rob Stone called “five hours of national advertising, essentially free,” getting national exposure, they also hosted 70 high school recruits, admitted Leipold after the game.
“There are rookies out there who are just as excited as we are,” he said. “And it was great to see. Because they see Kansas football changing. And then you combine (that) with what’s coming on the horizon, there’s so much great stuff. Rain or shine, the atmosphere is beautiful and there are so many things we can build on.”
The disappointing win demonstrated to the rookies that “they can certainly be part of a great legacy,” said running back Devin Neal, a Lawrence native and (somewhat reluctantly) scorer of the game-winning touchdown.
“It just shows them that we’re the real deal,” Neal said. “We are a team that will fight until the end and we can beat top-level teams and we showed that.”
Leipold added that as part of what he called a “monumental change in how this program is perceived,” after receiving six ticket requests from high school coaches for a game since his freshman season, he received 75 for Saturday’s game .
For quarterback Jason Beane, who could choose to walk away from the KU program entirely after last season, the program’s progress has been extremely evident even off the field.
“Me and (strength coach Matt Gildersleeve) talked about it before the game, just like two short years ago we were here in an empty stadium,” Bean said. “We asked people to come to our games. And now we sell out several times a season. It just shows how far this program has come and how much the fans believe in us.”
However, Bean stressed that the victory was just one step on a winding road.
“We are still fighting our way to the top and we still have a long way to go,” he said. “But we’re on the right track and as long as we continue to follow what coach Leipold says, I think we’ll be fine.”
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