Kansas football on Saturday made a significant switch at quarterback for the first time in the Les Miles era.
But the team doesn’t, the first-year KU head coach later stressed, have a full-blown controversy at the position.
KU made the decision to bench senior starter Carter Stanley at halftime of the team’s eventual 31-13 defeat to No. 25 Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., inserting Miles’ son, walk-on senior Manny Miles, into the role to start the third quarter. Stanley returned for the fourth and final period, but by then, the game had long been decided — the Cowboys scored the contest’s first 31 points.
Les Miles said Stanley received immediate assurance that the switch wasn’t permanent.
“Oh no, he’s engaged,” Miles said of Stanley on his postgame radio interview. “We told him this was a break, this was a change in pitchers. This was not in any way a long-term decision. ... Just searching for something more, better. Needing a spark. (Manny Miles) came in, tried hard.”
Manny Miles led three drives on the afternoon, with two ending in punts and the final an interception. Stanley, who had handled virtually every significant snap this season for the Jayhawks (3-7, 1-6 Big 12), returned and put together a strong fourth quarter to finish 22-for-37 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Asked if Stanley is still the starting quarterback as KU enters its final two contests — an 11 a.m. Saturday tilt against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, and a Nov. 30 finale against Baylor in Lawrence — the head coach responded: “Oh yeah.”
For their part, both quarterbacks pointed to a lack of cohesion among all 11 offensive players as the primary force behind the group’s troubling trend of slow starts.
“Just as players, playing better team football (is important),” Stanley said in a postgame TV interview. “You know, it’s everything. You can’t have 10 guys do well on one play, and if you have one guy that’s missing, that messes up the whole play. Just playing better team football. Not sure what we have to do right now to get that going, but that’s what it is.”
Stanley cited efforts from his wide receivers and offensive linemen, as well as “great playcalling” by offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon, as keys in the team’s fourth-quarter turnaround — Stephon Robinson and Quan Hampton hauled in 14- and 9-yard touchdowns, respectively, to make the final score a tad more respectable.
Manny Miles, who led KU's only touchdown drive in the team’s 38-10 home defeat to Kansas State on Nov. 2, echoed Stanley’s desire to see everyone on offense get on the same page every down.
“Football is a paper-thin line between winning and losing, and that winning and losing can come in a 31-30 game or it can come in a 31-13 game,” he said. “A few plays here and there, one block where he’s the only guy left and he makes the tackle, that’s a seven-point difference. You have a couple plays like that the first quarter, a couple the second. You take advantage of them it’s a whole different ballgame. Unfortunately it went the other way this time.”
Three KU quarterbacks threw an interception in Saturday’s defeat — Thomas MacVittie, who transferred to KU from the junior college level this offseason and was expected by many to be the team’s starter this season, tossed an interception on a trick play that saw the junior line up at wide receiver.
“We didn’t play as well as we’d have liked,” Les Miles said. “To the people coming to see us play our best game, I just want you to know that was our intent, always. We didn’t quite get that accomplished.”
Defense does its part
The Cowboys (7-3, 4-3) notched big-play scores on 51- and 43-yard touchdown passes to Dillon Stoner, but outside of those glaring examples, the Jayhawk defense mostly kept its head above water, surrendering just three points off the KU offense’s three turnovers.
“If you’d have told me that the defense was going to play like that, I’d have figured we were going to win,” Les Miles said. “Defense played really well, and consistently well. They didn’t get down the field against that defense for long drives. They had a long pass, but that was one play. So I liked how the defense played.”
KU entered intent on locking down Chuba Hubbard, one of the nation's top running backs. Hubbard finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“We kind of made a decision to kind of put a corral on him,” Miles said, “and it might cost a deep ball or two, which it did, but it definitely slowed Hubbard down.”