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The Other Arm

By Tim Griffin, Special to CNNSI.com

November 28, 2000


Kansas State quarterback Jonathan Beasley's abilities always have been picked apart by a legion of critics only too willing to point out his shortcomings.

He's not fast enough. He's not strong enough. He's not vocal enough as a leader.

Such has been the fate for the Wildcats quarterback who had the unenviable task of following Michael Bishop, one of the greatest in recent KSU history.

But Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium, Beasley will have the opportunity to accomplish a feat that eluded Bishop and every other Kansas State quarterback since 1934.

A victory in the conference championship game would give Beasley his own moment that only the fictional self-help guru Stuart Smalley from "Saturday Night Live" could identify with. It would provide the senior quarterback a chance to finally say, "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough ..."

"Ever since I've been here, it's been a growing experience for me and something I've learned from," Beasley said. "Michael Bishop was a great guy for me to learn from, as was [former starter] Brian Kavanagh. I appreciate both of the guys and without them both, I wouldn't be where I am. It's been a great experience and I wouldn't change it for the world."

Beasley played in eight games as a true freshman in 1996 and was expected to redshirt the following year after Bishop's arrival. But he voluntarily decided in the middle of the season to play after injuries beset KSU's top backup.

His redshirt year came in 1998 -- the year that Bishop led the Wildcats within a game of playing for a national championship before losing to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game.

Bishop went to New York City after the season as the Heisman Trophy runner-up behind Ricky Williams. It's been tough for Beasley to fill those shoes.

"There's only one Michael Bishop and it was never thought that Jonathan had to duplicate the things that Michael did," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "It wasn't in my thoughts, either. Those are difficult footsteps to follow."

"I wasn't here when Bishop was here, but I can't imagine Bishop being a whole lot better than Beasley with what I've seen," Colorado coach Gary Barnett said earlier this season. "I'm sure he's somewhat better, but not significantly. To me, Beasley is a big-play guy."

Kansas State fans haven't always been as forgiving, particularly when they compared some of Beasley's fluttering passes to the ropes that Bishop customarily threw.

And the road to Saturday's championship game was pocked by struggles earlier this season. Beasley was thought to be only the bridge between Bishop and Ell Roberson, who was thought to be able to challenge him for the Wildcats' starting position coming into the season.

Earlier in the season, KSU fans were clamoring for Roberson, whose insertion in the middle of a 54-10 triumph over Louisiana Tech prompted a wild celebration among fans at KSU Stadium. That talk made Snyder fume, particularly considering that Beasley had passed for 233 yards and accounted for four touchdowns earlier in the game.

"I can appreciate them applauding somebody, but Jonathan, like it or not, was 13-1 at the time and Ell hasn't done it yet ... If you spend your life hanging your hat on potential, you'll end up a poor man."

As the Wildcats' 10-2 season progressed, Beasley's contributions kept getting better.

He orchestrated the Wildcats' 29-28 upset over Nebraska that pushed them to the brink of the North Division championship. The triumph was a turnaround from the previous season, when the Wildcats were routed at Lincoln, 41-15.

After the game, Snyder revealed that Beasley played with a bum shoulder that kept him from raising his arm over his head, leading him to a 3-for-19 performance.

Those struggles fueled Bishop throughout the season. A simple placard hung above his locker saying "41-15," to remind him of the final score of the blowout loss to the Cornhuskers.

"I've been in a lot of close games, but I have never won them," Beasley said. "Finally, I was able to get a win. It was crazy going to back to the locker room after that. There were a thousand thoughts going through my mind. I'll never forget it."

A victory over Missouri capped the Wildcats' closing three-game winning streak after an Oct. 28 loss at Texas A&M jeopardized their title chances.

"We're really excited about being where we are," Beasley said. "It's great to have a second opportunity after the A&M loss and still have a situation where we can play for the conference championship. There were three tough games. We're excited and can't wait for Saturday to come."

Beasley is Kansas State's second-leading rusher in the Wildcat attack, which Snyder describes as similar to a single-wing attack where the quarterback functions as a tailback. Beasley has rushed for 459 yards this season and 16 touchdowns, including a share of the Big 12 record with five touchdowns against North Texas earlier this season.

That big performance caught the attention of North Texas coach Darrell Dickey, a former KSU quarterback who raved about his successor. "I certainly have a hard time finding out how people here get on Beasley because he's a great quarterback. He might be the best one to ever play here.

"As long as he's healthy, they've got a chance to play against anybody they play."

The game against the Sooners will provide another chance at redemption.

Prior to the Oct. 14 Oklahoma game, Beasley was ranked first nationally in passing efficiency and receiving early mention as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. Through his first six games he had completed 62.3 percent of his passes with only two interceptions.

But that day, Josh Heupel passed for 374 yards and led his team to the upset victory. Beasley went 14-for-36 -- although eight of his passes were dropped -- and saw his hopes snuffed at the spot.

Those struggles started a three-game slide that saw him complete 41 percent of his passes with six interceptions before the late turnaround over the final three games (32-of-71, 573 yards passing, 125 rushing).

"I think Beasley is an excellent football player," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He's a strong runner, an accurate thrower, but he's got a strong arm. And he's very heady. You can see him checking at the line of scrimmage, which results a lot of times with a strong play."

 

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