If Kansas had any hope of winning Saturday’s game as an 18 1/2-point Vegas underdog against Texas Tech, the truth was this: It had to have a great game from quarterback Jason Bean.
The junior transfer from North Texas had proven it was possible earlier this season. He’d run circles around Coastal Carolina to spur a third-quarter comeback. He’d bombed away against Duke to give KU an early lead and also some hope.
Fair or not, KU’s magic Bean not only had made losses a bit more tolerable for fans this season, but also had given flashes of hope that the Jayhawks could be set at quarterback for the foreseeable future.
KU’s 41- 14 loss Saturday to Texas Tech, though, makes things a bit murkier.
Because for all the highs of Bean’s season, he’s now backed that up with two stinkers, while also throwing for an average of 86 yards this season against three Big 12 opponents.
“I think the looks that they gave him, it definitely wasn’t his best game,” KU coach Lance Leipold said. “Barely over 50% (completion). Under 100 yards passing. Yeah, we need to be better in the passing game holistically.”
To put all the blame on Bean for his numbers Saturday — 11 for 21, 80 passing yards, one interception — would be foolish. KU is still building out of a hole roster-wise, and while the offensive line has improved from the beginning of the season, it’s far from being considered even middle-of-the-road when compared to Big 12 standards.
Still, football is a game often dominated by the passers. Those who throw it well often win, and those who can’t often lose.
It’s why Bean’s passing totals against Baylor (57), Iowa State (120) and now Texas Tech (80) deserve further scrutiny, especially considering the Red Raiders’ poor defensive reputation coming in.
If we’re being honest, KU’s downward trajectory over the last 12 seasons has been mirrored by its quarterback play. Outside of Carter Stanley’s transcendent 2019 season, KU’s musical chairs at the position hasn’t landed any consistency, with the Jayhawks’ revolving door of freshmen, transfers, jucos and previous five-stars usually not producing as coaches dreamed.
It’s why Bean’s start to the season was so encouraging. KU has much to figure out roster-wise, but if Bean could just steady the ship at the game’s most important position for the next two — or three — years, KU could be fast-tracking a road to respectability quicker than many might believe.
Internal discussion in Anderson Family Football Complex might be a bit different now. Is Bean still the answer? And if he doesn’t show more in future weeks, will KU’s coaches need to look outside the program this offseason for potential help?
Perhaps this is a blip. Bean still possesses game-changing speed, and that tool provides the rest of KU’s roster a potential cheat code in their early development, as he can turn teammate missed assignments and mistakes into big plays, simply because of his natural ability.
Then again, one would expect Bean to be getting better at this point in the season, not regressing. He joined the team in the summer and learned the offense in August practices, meaning every week should hypothetically bring an added level of comfort with coaches and the system.
At the least, that hasn’t been evident in the last two weeks.
So what are the other options?
Sophomore Jalon Daniels, who started six games last season, could still be an answer; he didn’t play during garbage time in KU’s game Saturday, so perhaps the coaching staff already is considering a redshirt for him with an eye to the future.
The Jayhawks, though, already have committed a lot of resources to QBs. Developmental freshmen Ben Easters and Conrad Hawley joined the roster this season, so KU likely isn’t in a spot where it can throw lots of recruiting darts at the position if it wants to keep balance.
Leipold, for his part, wasn’t ready to say too much about Bean’s effort in the immediate aftermath; it’s tough to have accurate analysis in real-time from the sideline view, he said, while KU’s overall struggles also muddied the evaluation.
“Not enough plays run to gain any type of rhythm that a quarterback can gain some consistency and confidence or us as an offense,” Leipold said. “And that seems to be a repeating thing.”
Leipold is sure to be watching closely during Sunday’s film session, as KU’s previous advantage at quarterback has dissipated during Big 12 play.
Whether that creates bigger program aftershocks remains to be determined, as KU coaches will be faced with an important question soon:
How much rebuilding faith, exactly, should be put in Bean, especially with so much at stake?