Second-half woes doom Jayhawks

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Saturday, the Kansas Jayhawks were a testament to just how quickly fortunes can change in the game of football. After racing out to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, Head Coach Turner Gill's squad stalled and the visiting Texas Tech Red Raiders caught fire, as the Jayhawks fell on Homecoming, 45-34.

At times like the first half of Saturday's match-up with Texas Tech, the strides the Kansas Jayhawks are making during the second year of Head Coach Turner Gill's tenure are blatantly obvious.

For two quarters the Jayhawks not only went toe-to-toe with the Red Raiders, they outplayed them. With the offense humming like a well-oiled machine, Kansas jumped out to a 20-0 lead and the defense, much-maligned in recent weeks, picked up a couple of early stops. Though Texas Tech came to life, Gill's squad entered intermission with a 27-24 lead and all of the momentum.

To Gill, the first half was some of the best football his team had played through three and a half games - maybe the best stretch.

"I think the bottom line was execution," he said. "Offensively we definitely executed very, very well."

The Jayhawks racked up 303 yards of total offense in the first half, doing damage through the air - quarterback Jordan Webb threw for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns - and on the ground, as Kansas runners combined for 130 yards before halftime.

The defense was doing its part as well. Though they gave up 257 total yards, they were finally able to get off the field on third down - an issue all season long - as Tech converted on just three of its eight first-half attempts. Additionally, they forced their first turnover of the season when freshman safety Keeston Terry intercepted a Seth Doege pass in the first quarter.

Though Webb had thrown two interceptions of his own - and a fumbled punt reception by junior wideout D.J. Beshears ultimately led to seven points for the Red Raiders - the third win of the season was so close the Homecoming crowd of 39,000-plus at Memorial Stadium could practically taste it.

That is, until the second half intervened.

Texas Tech drove 91 yards on 12 plays to take the lead on the opening drive of the half, when running back Eric Stephens burst in from eight yards out.

That score would start a string of 21 straight unanswered points for the Red Raiders, a barrage that quickly put the game out of reach. A fourth quarter touchdown pass from Webb to senior tight end A.J. Steward cut the gap to 45-34, where it would stand when the final seconds ticked off the clock.

This marks the second straight game the Jayhawks have been blitzed at halftime, while stumbling out of the gates themselves. It's something Gill said the staff is working to address.

"We'll continue to talk about it as a staff as far as what we're doing with halftime adjustments," he said. "What are we talking about, what are we doing and how we get that communicated to our players."

Kansas fans probably don't want to talk about bright spots at the moment - and rightfully so - but some existed nonetheless. Of particular note was the play of redshirt freshman running back Brandon Bourbon, who broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time in his young career in just 10 carries. His 51-yard touchdown run in the first half showed the unique combination of speed and power he possesses, and will continue to serve the team well moving forward; particularly if freshman Darrian Miller, who tweaked his hamstring on the first series of the game, needs time to heal before returning to action.

"He's a guy we feel very good about," Gill said, of Bourbon. "We've got some talented running backs. Obviously (James) Sims is our guy for the most part, but then we have the other guys and Bourbon was called upon today. He rose to the occasion and did well. He showed his skills being a physical runner; he also showed his speed and made some big plays for us. It was great to see that."

Still the turnovers, costly penalties and second-half sluggishness are all things that need to be addressed - and quickly - if Kansas is to keep the season from becoming a mirror image of 2010 in the win-loss column.

"That's the big deciding factor," Gill said, of turnovers. "You can't turn the ball over three or four times against a good football team and win. You just can't do it. Our guys played hard; we've got some good things that did occur. We made some good progress. We have to be able to sustain, but we'll get that stuff corrected."

With the loss, the Jayhawks drop to 2-2 on the season. Next week they travel to Stillwater, Okla. for a road tilt with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are ranked fifth nationally and boast the nation's second most prolific passing attack. Top Stories