LAWRENCE — There is an old theory in football that losing in a high-scoring shootout is more palatable than losing in dull and monotonous fashion.
This is one of those theories, of course, that may be psychological hooey -- something that only exists in the minds of football fans beaten down by years of losing. But after seasons of fielding anemic and impotent offenses — and years of teams that generally lost in boring fashion — it appears that Kansas could be a living test-case for the theory of (slightly more) entertaining losing.
On a cool and idyllic night at Memorial Stadium, Kansas absorbed a 55-23 beating at the hands of Memphis. The Jayhawks were eviscerated by Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch, who completed 22 of 25 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns. The KU defense coughed up an early 10-0 lead and was generally rendered useless for four quarters. One week after a frustrating season-opening loss to South Dakota State, the Jayhawks dropped to 0-2 against a Memphis program flaunted its nouveau riche status.
The Tigers had lost 19 straight games against teams from power-five conferences. That didn't matter. On Saturday night, there was little doubt which team was the more powerful program.
In most tangible ways, it was similar to so many other Kansas losses over the last five years. But if there was a distinction, it was this: At times, the Kansas offense showed a pulse. The pulse was perhaps not strong enough, and it faded for most of the second half. But at times, the Jayhawks looked liked the same offense that put up 576 yards and 38 points in its season opener.
Junior running back Ke'aun Kinner rushed for more than 100 yards for the second straight game. And the Jayhawks had 20 points by the early minutes of the third quarter. Was it progress? Well, that perhaps depends on your definition of that word. But it begs the question: Even if the Jayhawks' up-tempo offense is putting points on the board, what can be done about an inexperienced and overmatched defense?
The Tigers piled up more than 600 yards, methodically grinding down the Jayhawks with a balanced attack. Five different Memphis players rushed for touchdowns. Lynch, the Tigers' 6-foot-7 quarterback, barely broke a sweat, completing passes to nine different receivers.
Some of Kansas' defensive problems were expected. This is a unit starting seven players that had never started a college game before this season. And there is little to no experience beyond the first-string players. But here's the reality: When the Big 12 season rolls around, opponents such as Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma won't care too much about how the Jayhawks got in this mess.
Saturday actually began with promise. Kansas built a 10-0 lead in the opening stretches of the first quarter, taking advantage of a Memphis fumble on the Tigers' first play from scrimmage. The Jayhawks settled for a field goal after taking over at the Memphis 10-yard line. But one possession later, they stormed 73 yards in five plays and Kinner finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown jaunt.
That simply primed the pump for an offensive onslaught. Memphis poured on 17 straight points as Lynch dissected the Jayhawks' secondary. Lynch hit on 10 of his first 12 pass attempts, and the Tigers took a 17-10 lead with just under 14 minutes left in the first half.
The Jayhawks would manager a field goal to trim the deficit, but Memphis scored the final touchdown of the first half to push its lead back to 24-13. The second half belonged to Memphis.
Seven days earlier, Kansas coach David Beaty had departed Memorial Stadium on a quiet Saturday night after watching his team lose its season opener on a fumbled snap. Beaty's first game as a head coach had been marked by wild swings. There was a 31-7 deficit, a furious comeback in the second half, and a bizarre final sequence in which his team couldn't accomplish the simplest of football tasks -- spiking the ball to stop the clock before a last-second field goal attempt.
The final moments of the South Dakota State loss had burned, but in the moments after the game, Beaty took responsibility for the defeat. And in a strange way, there were some encouraging moments in a brutal loss to an FCS team.
On Saturday, Kansas returned to Memorial Stadium, hoping to hang with a rising Memphis program that was favored by more than 13 points. This time, there was less optimism to be gleaned. This time, Kansas crumbled under the weight of a better team.