LAWRENCE, Kan. — Joey McGuire did what just about every Texas Tech coach has done when playing Kansas over the years: He won.
In his first season with the Red Raiders, they won 43-28, their third straight victory in the lopsided series and the 14th in their last 15 meetings. But unlike so many of those matchups going back to 2004 — the 63-21 win in 2008, the 55-19 win in 2016 and the 65-19 blowout the following year — the Jayhawks played Texas Tech close into the fourth quarter.
McGuire knew then Kansas was rapidly improving. And that progress has been unmistakable one year later, with the No. 19 Jayhawks (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) coming off back-to-back wins over Oklahoma and Iowa State and still harboring an outside chance of making the conference championship game heading into Saturday's matchup with the Red Raiders.
“When we talk to our guys about Kansas now,” McGuire said this week, “you can see in their faces how much respect they have for that program and the way they’re playing right now.”
That's how Texas Tech (4-5, 3-3) was supposed to be playing.
McGuire said during a TV interview before the season, "Don’t go in our locker room and say we can’t win the Big 12, because you might not make it out of there.” The Red Raiders have struggled to live up to those high expectations, losing two of their past three games to fall into the precarious situation of needing two wins in their last three to become bowl-eligible.
If nothing else, those preseason prognostications have given Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold a nugget with which to focus his guys.
“That’s a team that many picked to be a darkhorse title contender," he said, "and so it’s a very talented football team. They didn’t get off the start they wanted. Lost some close games, had some injuries. They’re starting to get healthy in a lot of spots.”
That includes quarterback, where Behren Morton returned from a shoulder injury to lead the Red Raiders to a much-needed win over TCU last week. Morton had taken over when Tyler Shough broke his leg early in the season.
Kansas has had some injury issues at quarterback, too. Jalon Daniels was considered a Heisman Trophy candidate coming into the season, but a back problem has sidelined him all but three games. The Jayhawks turned to veteran Jason Bean, whose play the last two weeks has been a big reason why Kansas has picked up two of its best wins in years.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Kansas is in a muddle of teams with 4-2 conference records behind Texas and Oklahoma State, who handed the Jayhawks their only two Big 12 defeats. That means they need to keep winning and get a lot of help to land in the conference title game. Texas Tech needs to win two of its last three games to avoid missing a bowl game for the first time since 2020.
Kansas cornerback Mello Dotson, who has Pick-Sixes in each of the past two games, left early before halftime against Iowa State with an undisclosed injury. Leipold said he was “doing better” but declined to say whether he would play this week.
“Hopefully we can progress,” Leipold said, “but he's doing a lot better than even anticipated.”
Texas Tech offensive lineman Cole Spencer, who has been out with a broken toe, and tight end Mason Tharp, who has been dealing with an undisclosed injury, are expected to miss another game this week. Neither has played since the game against Houston on Sept. 30. McGuire hopes to get both of them back for next week against UCF.
Red Raiders linebacker Josh Rodriguez returned last week for the first time since hurting his foot in the season opener. The plan is for Rodriguez to play this week and next before skipping the Texas game to preserve his redshirt availability.
KICKING IT BOTH WAYS
Jayhawks kicker Seth Keller has missed field-goal tries over 40 yards in each of the past two games. That led to Leipold using Owen Piepergerdes for a 50-yard try against the Cyclones, which also was no good. So who has the job going forward?
“We’re going to continue to use both,” Leipold said. “I think Owen has earned some opportunities. I think there’s things obviously with distance and leg strength on longer kicks. So we’ll continue to look through that through the week."