LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — David Beaty had the game ball in his hands in a foreign locker room for the first time as the coach at Kansas, and if it was up to him, he’d have snipped it into hundreds of pieces to share with everyone who’s been a part of his football program.
He instead tossed it to Pooka Williams, who ran roughshod over Central Michigan. He tossed it to several members of his defense, many of whom had spent three-plus seasons trying in vain for a road win.
He kept tossing it around to guys who played a part in last Saturday’s victory.
What ultimately happened to that ball is anyone’s guess. But it was historic, since it represented the end of a 46-game road losing streak, one that stretched back nearly a decade, and should give the Jayhawks some much-needed momentum heading into Saturday’s game against Rutgers.
“It was a fun game, fun ride home, very enthusiastic. There wasn’t just a whole lot of sleep, even though they were tired,” Beaty said. “That was a fun ride home. That’s how we’ve always wanted it to be. Our challenge now is to make sure we learn so we continue to have those types of feelings.”
Indeed, backing up wins has been even more difficult than earning one.
After going winless under Beaty his first season, the Jayhawks finally broke through against Rhode Island to kick off the next season, only to get spanked by Ohio the following week. Later that season, the Jayhawks stunned Texas in overtime late in the season, then lost to Kansas State.
The Jayhawks’ only victory last year, in their opener against Southeast Missouri State, was backed up by a lopsided home loss to the Chippewas — the same team Kansas beat this past weekend.
In fact, the Jayhawks haven’t won two straight games since the opening two weeks of the 2011 season, three coaches and an interim ago. Turner Gill proceeded to lose the next 10 games that season, lost his job shortly thereafter, and Charlie Weis soon began his own failed tenure.
The last time the Jayhawks beat back-to-back teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision? That was the final year for coach Mark Mangino, when Kansas won its first five in 2009 before losing its last seven.
The losing hadn’t stopped a whole lot in the ensuing nine years, and Beaty knows that one road win — against a non-Power Five opponent — hardly constitutes the kind of turnaround he’s seeking.
It’s a start, though, and there are reasons to believe more wins could be on the way.
Williams was dynamic in his debut, running for 125 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries against the Chippewas. He was held out of the season opener because of an eligibility issue, but made up for it with touchdown runs of 20 and 41 yards that helped pace the Jayhawks’ offense.
Peyton Bender still managed just 130 yards through the air, but he tossed a touchdown pass and, perhaps most important, didn’t throw an interception or make any big mistakes.
Then there was the performance by the Kansas defense, which picked off Central Michigan quarterback Tony Poljan four times and held a trio of Chippewas runners to just over 100 yards on the ground.
The seven points allowed were their fewest since their 55-6 win over Rhode Island last year.
“We really came together as a whole,” safety Mike Lee said. “Everybody did what they were supposed to do, were in their gaps and made plays and that’s what happened. Everybody did a good job.”
Heck, the defense even covered the seven points it allowed when cornerback Shakial Taylor, who had already forced a fumble in the game, picked off Poljan to open the fourth quarter. Taylor returned it 55 yards for a touchdown that gave Kansas a 28-7 lead and put the game out of reach.
“The touchdown by Shak, I mean that to me showed a little bit of growth in our defense, because what he was supposed to do there, he did,” Beaty said. “He sunk and he stayed underneath the corner route and still was going to be able to rally to play, played the underneath throw, and he did exactly what he was coached to do and it paid off.”
All of it paid off with the end of a road skid that dated to elementary school days for some of the guys on the Kansas sideline. Now, it’s a matter of proving it was no fluke.
“We chilled obviously Sunday up until Monday, and now, like I said earlier, it’s onto the next,” defensive tackle Daniel Wise said. “We’ve got to move onto Rutgers. We can celebrate after this week.”
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