The kinds of mistakes that the Kansas football program has largely avoided throughout the season hurt the Jayhawks in a big way Saturday night in Lubbock, Texas.
Two missed field goals and two turnovers by Kansas quarterback Jason Bean played a huge role in Texas Tech’s 43-28 win over Kansas that dropped the Jayhawks to 6-4 overall, 3-4 in Big 12 play and 1-4 in their last five games.
Box Score: Texas Tech 43, Kansas 28 ( .PDF )
As it has done all season, KU showed plenty of heart and fight to even be in the game after starting in a 24-7 hole. But it also felt like a game that Kansas will look back on as one it should have won.
Let’s not let the result of Saturday’s game — or any other game for that matter — overshadow one of the most important elements of what’s happening with this football program right now.
You’ve all known for a while that Devin Neal is a talented running back full of fire, fight and determination. But it’s time to recognize that he has a chance to go down as one of the greatest Kansas running backs of all time.
He’s still got some work to do to get there. But after what we’ve seen from Neal during the past two weeks — 414 yards on 56 carries as the absolute workhorse back for the Kansas offense — it’s not hard to see more monster days ahead for the Lawrence native.
Consider this: Entering this season, KU had just 19 200-yard rushing games in program history. Neal had No. 20 last week against Oklahoma State and came up just 10 yards shy of becoming the first Kansas player ever to top 200 yards rushing in consecutive games.
Credit the O-Line and KU’s play calling for some of that. But credit Neal for the bulk of it.
When you think Kansas running backs, who comes to mind?
Gale Sayers is automatic. Tony Sands, Jon Cornish, June Henley and John Riggins are likely. Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp were absolute gems during the program’s best years. And, if you’ve been paying attention during the recent lean years, you might think of James Sims and Pooka Williams Jr., as well.
By the time Neal’s done, he’ll be right in there with those guys. And, believe it or not, he’s already closing in on it.
Neal’s 190 yards on Saturday night pushed his total this season to 951 yards. That’s good for 17th on KU’s single-season rushing list.
With three games still to play this season, counting the bowl game — yeah, it’s still a little weird to write that — Neal has a realistic shot at climbing into the No. 4 spot on the single-season list.
Laverne Smith currently has that locked down, with his 1,181-yard season of 1974.
Looking at the even bigger picture, the No. 4 spot on KU’s career rushing list also appears to be in range. Smith also owns that, with 3,074 rushing yards from 1973-76.
Neal’s already halfway to that number in fewer than two full seasons, with 1,658 career rushing yards.
Like most of the players on this Kansas roster, Neal would trade all of those yards and individual achievements for team success.
But it’s still pretty cool that the Jayhawk who wears No. 4 has a pretty good shot of climbing into the No. 4 spot on both of KU’s most important rushing lists.
If he gets there, that will do plenty for the team’s success during the next couple of years.