LAWRENCE — Kansas has one last chance to leave its mark on the Big 12 this season.
Even though the Jayhawks enter their finale against West Virginia on Saturday at 1-10 overall and winless in the Big 12, they still have the chance to finish the year by leading the league in rushing and by sending running back James Sims over the 1,000-yard mark.
In a season of far too many failures, both would be welcome achievements.
“That would mean a tremendous amount to all of us,” said running back Taylor Cox. “It speaks volumes about the hard work and dedication we put in day-in-and-day-out.”
Kansas trails Baylor by four-tenths of a yard in per-game average in the Big 11, and Sims is just 44 yards shy of his barrier, something that would have seemed almost impossible when the sophomore was suspended for the first three games for violating team rules.
Kansas has lost nine consecutive games, and hasn’t won a Big 12 game since Nov. 6, 2010, when it beat Colorado under fired coach Turner Gill. But the one bit of success this season has come from the run game, and fittingly, that becomes the focus once more.
The trio of Sims, Cox and Tony Pierson has combined for 18 of the team’s 25 touchdowns, along with a school-record 10 games with at least one 100-yard rusher. The offense is averaging 216.6 yards rushing, which is 19th among the 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
While Kansas has struggled to stop the high-flying offenses of the Big 12, the run game has kept them close, particularly while quarterbacks Dayne Crist and Michael Cummings have struggled.
“We will continue to fight no matter what,” Cos said. “By giving a competitive game this last game, it would definitely leave a statement to the Big 12 that we have fight.”
Pierson and Cox started the season without Sims, who was arrested on suspicion of DUI this spring. While their backfield mate was watching from the sideline, the two put together the first game with more than one 100-yard rusher since the 2007 season.
Now, Sims can become the first 1,000-yard rusher since Brandon McAnderson that same season.
“He definitely deserves it just because the person he is and the work he puts in,” Cox said. “It is definitely good to see one of your brothers reach that milestone.”
Sims has led Kansas in rushing in seven of eight games, and has gone over 100 yards in six Big 12 games, all of which has helped take some of the sting out of a disappointing year.
The Jayhawks can win, at best, just two games for the second straight year. Those seniors who began their careers at Kansas have only won 11 games, and are on their third coach.
“It would be easy to throw in the towel considering our record,” Cox said, “but I feel like this team has too much pride to let all of our hard work go by the wayside.”
While improvement hasn’t shown up in the record, Kansas’ rushing numbers are a compelling sign that the team still has a pulse, and a chance to be soon competitive in the conference.
“I didn’t take this job to go 1-10,” coach Charlie Weis said. “I took it because I felt that this would be a challenge taking this team and turning it from a program at the bottom back to not only respectability, but being a perennially winning football team.”
Weis has a head start for next year when he returns the entire running core — Sims and Cox will be seniors, Pierson a junior — and a chance to continue establishing a presence in the Big 12.
“Week-in-and-week-out, as a group, we believe in playing with a great amount of pride,” Cox said. “We know that respect is earned, not given, and we just try to go out there and earn it from our opponent and show them that we are serious competitors.”
For now, Kansas has one more chance to send its seniors out on a high note, and one more chance to show off a running game that has shown signs of life.