LAWRENCE — In the wake of his first deflating loss as Kansas football head coach, Les Miles wanted to deliver a message.
Midway through the second question of his postgame radio interview following the Jayhawks’ 12-7 defeat Saturday night to Coastal Carolina, Miles interrupted the questioner, offering an unprompted big-picture commentary on the outcome.
“Let me tell you this, let me tell you what I told the team, OK?” Miles said. "I told my team that we’re all hurting, OK? This is not a deal where you hurt more than someone else, or someone else hurts more than you. This is a team. All of us, everyone in that room has pain. We’re going to have to get over it, and it’s not going to be easy.”
Miles lauded the effort of his players in the setback. He lamented that he was unable to deliver a win as a reward for that effort. He promised his team would go back to work and work harder than ever.
Then, Miles offered an opinion likely shared by many of the 33,493 inside David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
“This is a game we should’ve won,” Miles said. “It’s just that simple.”
KU (1-1) mustered just 280 yards of offense in the defeat, turning the ball over on downs three times in the second half alone in the clash. Quarterback Carter Staley threw a pair of interceptions. Miles burned the Jayhawks’ second and final timeouts ahead of the same play, an ultimately unsuccessful fourth-and-4 attempt in the fourth quarter.
The first boos of the Miles era rained down after the last timeout. More jeers came immediately after the ensuing play went nowhere, with an outstretched Stanley stopped two yards shy of the sticks.
Coastal Carolina (1-1) missed its second field goal attempt and third kick of the game to give the Jayhawks the ball and new life with 5:35 remaining, but just three plays later, KU faced another fourth-down situation. A pitch back to Williams went nowhere, eliciting more groans from those in the stands. Out of timeouts, Miles and company were unable to stop the Chanticleers’ draining of the clock.
Coastal Carolina, which itself totaled just 291 yards of offense, iced its first ever victory over a Power Five opponent.
“I just want you to know that I'm unhappy,” Miles said at the outset of his postgame news conference. “That's not how I saw it going. It's not how our team saw it going. Our guys played with their hearts on their sleeves, and they did everything that they could possibly do to win this game. ...
“[T]his is a team that could have won that game, well, easily. Not just — again, we did the things that we felt like would give us the best chance of victory, and we didn't get there.”
KU’s only points came on its first drive, with senior running back Khalil Herbert dashing 41 yards untouched to pay dirt for the quick 7-0 advantage. Coastal Carolina running back CJ Marable’s 20-yard receiving touchdown on a wheel route cut the deficit to 7-6, where it stood until Marable’s 8-yard rushing score in the third quarter gave the game its final margin.
The Jayhawks weren’t without their opportunities, the best coming on a run-heavy drive that presented the fourth-and-4 attempt from the Coastal Carolina 17. Rather than attempt a short field goal — new kicker Jacob Borcila missed a 40-yard try at the end of the first half — Miles opted to go for it ... just not before taking a timeout, convening again after a Coastal Carolina timeout, then taking the team’s third and final timeout to once again discuss the play.
“Well, they lined up, and they had an alignment that would not have benefited us, so we immediately took a timeout,” Miles said of the sequence. “(We) felt like we had a good call, a better call, so we went with it, and it didn't turn out that way.”
When the ball was finally snapped, Stanley targeted sophomore running back Pooka Williams, who drew contact from a Coastal Carolina defender. But no penalty flag was thrown, and a scrambling Stanley was unable to convert.
Williams was swallowed up for a 1-yard gain on a fourth-and-3 from the KU 27 with 4:01 left in what ultimately became the Jayhawk offense’s final play.
Miles said many issues led to his team’s inability to move the ball.
“It's not just one thing,” Miles said. “I think, again, it's something that we're going to have to look at to find out more specifically. It would be easy to say, ‘We don't throw two interceptions.’ But you know what? I don't know that that was exactly the answer. I'm going to stew over this one for quite some time, so I'll be able to tell you more specifically."
Williams, the All-Big 12 preseason pick making his first start following a one-game suspension for an offseason domestic battery incident, finished with 99 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Herbert tallied 82 yards and a touchdown on his eight carries.
Stanley, a senior who won the quarterback competition last month over junior college transfer Thomas MacVittie, finished 13-for-19 for 107 yards and a pair of interceptions. Miles said he needed to watch tape on what Stanley saw before evaluating the signal caller or making a decision on what the Jayhawks do with the position moving forward.
Stanley fought back emotion while describing his performance in postgame remarks.
"Me personally, I let the team down today. I mean I let us down,” Stanley said. “We did more than enough and we've gotta move on from it, come to work tomorrow and be ready for Friday."
KU’s season continues with its first road contest, a 6:30 p.m. Friday tilt against Boston College at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Just how many fans remain tuned in for Miles’ first season following Saturday’s outcome remains to be seen, though the head coach had a response for anyone taking a “same-old-Jayhawks” mentality.
“I wasn't here in the past, and I don't really know exactly how they looked (then). I'm worried more about the players that I coach and the coaches and their families than I am in a view that would link me to an unsuccessful past,” Miles said. “I think you'll find that our football team will continue to improve. I think there's a reason to believe that that will happen. But I've got to do my job. I've got to make sure that — this is the position that we're in, and we need to take some steps."