LAWRENCE — Of all the emotions one would’ve expected Carter Stanley to feel Saturday night, well, this wasn’t one of them.
But here was Kansas’ redshirt senior quarterback, speaking after starring in his team's exhilarating 37-34 home victory over Texas Tech and telling members of the media that, in a way, he felt pissed.
When allowed to explain, however, Stanley's sentiment becomes more than understandable, especially coming from a player whose own collegiate career has featured more lows than highs — but appears to at long last be entering an unrivaled upswing.
“I’m pissed my eligibility is almost out,” Stanley said with a laugh.
“But no, these coaches are going to get it right," Stanley said. "These guys in this locker room believe. Again, I’d play for coach (Les) Miles and coach (Brent) Dearmon for 100 years if I could. Those guys are special, and I’m just really excited for where this program’s going.”
Where KU is going, at least over the next five weeks, depends largely on whether Stanley can maintain a newfound level of elite play.
Stanley completed 26 of 37 pass attempts for 415 yards, three touchdowns and an interception against the Red Raiders, helping the Jayhawks (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) to their second straight game of 500-plus yards of total offense. In last weekend’s 50-48 near-upset of then-No. 15 Texas, Stanley racked up 310 passing yards and four touchdowns without committing a turnover.
Stanley was particularly lethal when it mattered most Saturday.
The Jayhawks were successful on 9 of 15 third-down attempts against the Red Raiders, including a second-half stretch that saw the team convert 7 of 8, all on Stanley passes. On those eight attempts, KU faced an average distance to the sticks of 11.8 yards, and two resulted in touchdowns — a 65-yard heave to Stephon Robinson on a third-and-10 and a 70-yard bomb to Andrew Parchment on a third-and-21.
The stretch only ended when Parchment dropped a third-down pass on the Jayhawks’ final drive, a series that saw Stanley complete 6 of 7 pass attempts for 45 yards.
“Carter Stanley was, oh my goodness,” Miles summarized.
Stanley acknowledged he could’ve played better, citing an interception thrown on the Jayhawk offense’s first play from scrimmage and a slow start that led to the home squad finding itself in a 17-0 hole.
That said, the strides made over the last two weeks haven’t been lost on the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder out of Vero Beach, Fla.
“I’m blessed to have this group around me, players and coaches,” Stanley said. “I’m going to bust my butt these last four, five weeks including the bye, and give it everything I’ve got because this place has given me so much, and just make the most of it.”
After teammate Liam Jones’ decisive 32-yard kick, the celebration was on. If that scene — KU fans rushing the field after a game-winning field goal in a night game against a Big 12 program from the Lone Star State — elicits déjà vu, just know it also did for Stanley, who quarterbacked the Jayhawks’ 24-21 overtime upset of Texas on Nov. 19, 2016.
Lingering on the field longer than most teammates, Stanley soaked in the moment. Later, he’d say the adversity he’s experienced over his career — a combined team record of 9-47 over his four-plus seasons in Lawrence — helped him appreciate Saturday's outcome even more.
“Obviously record-wise, KU football in the past decade or so hasn’t been so great,” Stanley said. “But it’s to the point where you recognize some of the faces (of fans) that you’ve seen over the years, and that support means the world. We’re looking to put the best product on the field and make those fans proud.”
It’s impossible to separate Stanley’s recent run of success from the installation three weeks ago of the new offensive coordinator Dearmon, and Saturday night, the two were again inseparable, at least when it came to the quarterback’s postgame interview session.
“He’s a stud,” shouted Dearmon, popping into the room to interrupt a Stanley answer.
Stanley laughed and tried to maintain his train of thought. A subsequent response circled back to his frustration — he’s pissed, you’ll remember — at only having four more games in Dearmon’s high-octane system.
“It’s a great feeling every time we go on the sideline and talk about adjustments and one of them is just chuckin’ bombs. That’s pretty sweet. That’s cool,” Stanley said. “This offense just has so many different components to it, which is incredible.
“Again, I’m jealous, because I heard Coach Dearmon a few weeks ago say that like only 25 percent of the offense was in. I mean, it’s just unreal. But our coaches are doing a great job teaching it, our guys are doing a great job learning it on the fly really, and I’m just proud to be a part of this group.”
Amending an earlier statement, it is possible for Stanley and Dearmon to have more than four games remaining together — that is, if the Jayhawks finish 3-1 and qualify for their first bowl game berth since the 2008 season.
Stanley said it’s “100-percent” realistic for KU to still aspire for postseason play.
“I mean, this team, we’re more than capable of being a bowl team. We’ve known that since before these coaches got hired,” Stanley said. “I can’t have more confidence than I do right now in the guys in that locker room. It’s a special group. These coaches are incredible.
“Really, it truly comes down to the saying, and it’s pretty cliché, but it’s about us. If we execute, if we play our best ball and get out there and execute these last four games, we’ll be in a bowl.”