LAWRENCE — Spend enough time around Kansas football coach David Beaty, and one can start to anticipate how he’ll answer certain questions.
Want to know who KU is starting at quarterback? Beaty will likely talk about how every position is an ongoing competition and how each player is only as good as his next snap.
Knowing this quirk about Beaty helps explain why one response stood out this week.
He was asked whether Saturday’s game against Baylor held any extra significance because both teams have struggled in Big 12 play. The standard Beaty response would have discussed how this matchup was important because it was the next one, followed by a few words about how all contests carry about the same weight.
That’s not what he said this week, though.
“This is a big game for both of us,” Beaty said. “Somebody’s going to come out of here with the first Big 12 win and move yourself into position to be able to attack the rest of the season. It is a huge game for us.”
The response was unexpected, but not inaccurate.
After suffering through a season of disappointment, KU could easily change its entire season narrative with a home win against 0-8 Baylor. With one good effort, the 1-7 Jayhawks could match their total for wins (two) and conference victories (one) from last year.
“It’ll make a difference in the rest of the season -- for us and for them,” KU defensive end Dorance Armstrong said. “So it’s a big game.”
The contest also should test how both teams handle adversity.
After losing consecutive road shutouts, KU showed some life last week in a 30-20 home loss to Kansas State. That came after Armstrong and teammate Daniel Wise both publicly called out teammates while trying to hold them accountable.
“That was obviously the closest game we’ve had all year, maybe one of our best performances,” Armstrong said. “We still fell short. That’s a sign that still shows there’s room for improvement, but overall, I’m proud of how the guys played.”
Keeping focus can be difficult during a losing streak, KU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham said, as teams that struggle can often develop fragile psyches. It makes sense, then, that enthusiasm could be just as important as execution when it comes to this particular game.
“It’s just like I told (the guys) yesterday: ‘The team that wants it the most will win this one. If you want it more than they do, we’ll win,’” Meacham said. “Beyond scheme or anything ... if we show up and want to beat them, we’ll beat ‘em. If we show up and we’re not all the way in it, we probably won’t beat ’em.”
Oddsmakers are skeptical about KU’s chances. The Jayhawks opened as 10-point home underdogs to the Bears, though that number has moved down to eight in recent days.
The stakes are clear for both teams. The winner Saturday will move out of last place, pick up its first conference win and also leave Memorial Stadium with a better feeling about the future.
“We are looking forward to the challenge,” Beaty said, “and it will be a great one, because they want their first (Big 12 win) just like we do.”