LAWRENCE — It took Joe Dineen a moment to realize exactly what the student section was doing.
Early on in Kansas’ game against Rutgers on Saturday at David Booth Memorial Stadium, the fifth-year senior linebacker shared a moment of confusion with junior Bryce Torneden. What, he wondered, was the noise emanating from the Jayhawk faithful behind him supposed to be?
Soon, a pattern developed. The sound was being made after each rip-roaring dash from true freshman running back Pooka Williams.
Dineen’s mind immediately went to Allen Fieldhouse.
“You know how they go, ‘Sviiiii for 3,’ ” asked Dineen, referring to Jayhawk public address announcer Eric Danielson’s drawn-out call of treys by former KU sharp-shooter Svi Mykhailiuk. ”(The students) go, ‘Poooook.’ That’s pretty cool.
“They’re starting to recognize that he’s a pretty damn good football player — and the name is catchy.”
If Williams and the Jayhawks can maintain the dominant form they’ve shown over the last two weeks, there may soon be more students in the stands to hum the freshman sensation’s name.
The Jayhawks rolled the Scarlet Knights 55-14, capitalizing on a 400-yard performance on the ground and a six-takeaway effort from the defense. Playing in only his second career contest and first home game, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound speedster Williams finished with 158 yards on 18 carries, the last tote a 52-yard touchdown dash that opened the fourth quarter and put the game well out of reach.
A Lawrence native and lifelong KU fan, Dineen said the “Pook” chant shows KU fans realize the program has something special on its hands in Williams.
“I saw it in camp. He’s a freak,” Dineen said. “He’s an impressive, impressive running back. He’s a student of the game. He loves to learn. He’s obviously making a huge impact for us right now, but he’s going to be one of the best to come through here, I think.”
The victory gave KU (2-1) back-to-back wins against FBS foes for the first time this decade.
“This is fun. This is fun. This is fun,” said a smiling Dineen. “I’m glad I could come up here and talk to you guys with a smile on my face and not (be) sad.”
KU jumped in front 24-7 early in the second quarter on the strength of a pair of pick-sixes from safeties Torneden and Mike Lee, the latter a frantic 31-yard interception return that allowed Lee to show some nifty moves with the ball — “I tried to tell ’em I got running back skills, but they don’t listen to me. But they see now,” he joked.
Dineen, Torneden and Willie McCaleb recovered fumbles to round out the Jayhawk defense’s six-takeaway effort.
“It really is fun when you’re winning and you can go out and play with a smile on your face, play looser and play more relaxed,” Dineen said. “I think we played better, and it’s just a good feeling to go out there and know that you’re making plays.”
Rutgers pulled within 10 on a blocked field goal return, but it was the closest the Scarlet Knights (1-2) came the rest of the way. Khalil Herbert’s 59-yard touchdown run late in the half kick-started a finish that saw the Jayhawks score the game’s final 31 points and represented the first of three 50-plus-yard scoring rushes for three different KU running backs, with Williams and Deron Thompson (55-yard fourth-quarter scamper) rounding out the output.
Dozens of red-shirted security members rushed the field after the game and surrounded both goal posts for several minutes, perhaps anticipating an attempted take-down from overzealous fans.
That moment never came — no victory against lowly Rutgers likely would have, even for success-starved KU — but it represented a jarring turnaround from a Week 1 outcome that saw the Jayhawks drop their home opener 26-23 in overtime to FCS opponent Nicholls State. The two weeks since have produced a historic road losing streak-snapping 31-7 victory at Central Michigan — another six-takeaway effort — and Saturday’s dominant performance against Rutgers.
What, then, have the last two weeks revealed about KU?
“We’ve shown everyone we can play and we can compete with everybody,” Lee said. “The first game, we felt like we let them down, we let our fans down. We had to bounce back. We had to do something to bounce back, and that’s what we did. We came out with a lot of confidence, like we was gonna punch them in the mouth, and that’s what we was doin’.”
If KU can replicate this confidence, energy and passion, Lee said, the team can expect to make noise in Big 12 play, which starts with next Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. tilt at Baylor.
“We’ve got a lot of doubters, but we not really worried about that,” Lee said. “We block the negativity out. We always worry about the positive. As a whole team I feel like our confidence is there and I feel like we can go and beat some Big 12 teams.”
After the game, senior defensive tackle Daniel Wise and the other Jayhawk captains took control of the locker room and delivered a straight-forward address to the team’s younger players.
“The message was don’t get complacent,” Dineen said. “Like, we haven’t arrived yet. There’s a lot of room for us to get better and grow. ... Enjoy the win, because it’s a good feeling for sure, but keep in mind we have a lot of football left to play and we’ve still got to get better.”