LAWRENCE — Programs in these types of situations, in particular those coming off 55-point home defeats in season finales, typically don’t utter these words.
Then again, Les Miles isn’t your typical head coach.
Mere moments after his inaugural season at Kansas football concluded Saturday with a thud in the form of a 61-6 defeat to No. 11 Baylor at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Miles didn’t shy away from identifying positive strides made by the Jayhawks — nor did he avoid the topic of a program goal that has for a decade of futility proven itself elusive.
“I think it's gone extremely well. I think our football team is better than they were,” Miles said. “I think they understand what the commitment to a full-time football team, a team that's going to play and play and be given the opportunity to chase bowl games, et cetera.”
“I know that after a game like (Saturday), you don't mention bowl games, but we do," Miles said, "because we're going to take some strides and we're going to make corrections and those will be the things that we would look forward to being a part of.”
Saturday’s season-ending defeat highlighted more than enough areas of improvement for KU.
The Jayhawks (3-9, 1-8 Big 12) committed six turnovers against the Bears (11-1, 8-1) and snagged just one takeaway, the biggest example of one of the team’s biggest problem spots — one year after finishing the season with a turnover margin per game of plus-1.5, KU this campaign finished at minus-one, ranked 125th nationally.
KU ended up with a nation-worst 0.5 takeaways per game, down from 2.4 last year.
“We told (the players), to those men that are going to stay, to the seniors that are not graduating, we have work to do," Miles said. “We’ll take every mistake that we made in this season final and we will dot the instillation with exactly the why and what and how it happened and we will take spring ball and improve.”
For as many pleasant surprises as this KU team had, there were an equal number of letdowns.
The Jayhawks seized a 48-24 victory at Boston College on Sept. 13, a contest that saw KU enter as a 20-plus-point underdog. Miles’ squad narrowly lost at Texas 50-48 in an Oct. 19 tilt that immediately validated the head coach’s decision to make a midseason change at offensive coordinator. KU toppled Texas Tech 37-34 at home on Oct. 26 and later held a fourth-quarter lead in a 41-31 road defeat to Iowa State on Nov. 23.
On the other hand ...
A 12-7 home defeat to Coastal Carolina on Sept. 7 proved an early-season buzzkill. The team lost senior running back Khalil Herbert to the transfer portal, then a 51-14 contest at TCU, on Sept. 28. Rival Kansas State continued its dominance in the Sunflower Showdown series on Nov. 2, coming into Lawrence to take a decisive 38-10 victory.
Then, of course, came Saturday.
“This is the style of game that you’ll spend an offseason correcting,” Miles said after the loss to Baylor, “and when we take the field we’ll be better because of it.”
Important work must now be done on the recruiting trail — and perhaps in the transfer portal — as this coaching staff embarks on Year 2.
Gone are senior standouts Carter Stanley (quarterback), Hakeem Adeniji (left tackle) and Bryce Tornden and Mike Lee (safeties). Daylon Charlot (wide receiver), Hasan Defense (cornerback) and Azur Kamara and Najee Stevens-McKenzie (linebackers) are just four more on a list of other notable contributors that are out of eligibility.
Miles, who said he expected to hit the recruiting trail Sunday night, said KU is already “miles ahead” of where it was at this time last year, when the program was still trying to simply fill out a staff around the national championship-winning head coach.
The Jayhawks currently have 24 oral commits ahead of December’s early signing period, with four-star linebacker Brennon Scott highlighting the group. The team’s Class of 2020 features just one current signal caller: Da’Vonshai Harden, a 6-foot-3, 198-pounder graded out as a three-star prospect at 247Sports’ composite rankings.
“Certainly we need a quarterback,” Miles said. “And we like (junior Thomas) MacVittie. We like the other Miles lad (sophomore Miles Kendrick). But if we can find a great quarterback in this class, we'll take one.”
Miles indicated his recruiting pitch will be straightforward.
“It's an honest and sincere rendition of a great education, an opportunity to launch a career, an opportunity to play early,” Miles said. “We're looking for those kinds of players that would develop, do some special things. And I think that guys that will want to come to Kansas will look forward to that.”