Yes, everything that could go right for Iowa State did. Most noticeable were a boatload of really good catches by Cyclone receivers, despite decent KU defense. One Phog.net guru who shall remain nameless – Kevin Flaherty – assured me last Wednesday that up-and-coming ISU QB Austen Arnaud didn’t have anyone who could catch a pass.)
No matter, though. A good football team – and Kansas should be a very good football team – overcomes those kinds of things. They get punched in the mouth and punch back.
Instead, KU spent the first 30 minutes on the ropes, trying to cover up. QB Todd Reesing threw for 59 whole yards in the first half. KU went into the locker room with 93 total yards and two turnovers. Most important, they trailed, 20-0, thanks also to a defense front that didn’t pressure Arnaud a lick and a back seven that allowed Cyclone receivers to roam the vast plains of Jack Trice Stadium free and unfettered much of the first half.
Fortunately, as bad as they were in the first half, they were just about that good in the second. There was plenty of credit to go around, too.
- Reesing doubled his passing output on one play just two minutes and 40 seconds into the third quarter when he connected with RB Jake Sharp on a 67-yard touchdown pass. Reesing threw for 265 yards and three TDs in the second half to finish the day with 315.
- RB Jake Sharp may have finally had his breakout game of 2008. He provided a desperately-needed second half spark to the KU offense, rushing for 81 yards and finishing with 188 total yards and two TDs (he added a 2-yard rushing TD to his long scoring catch).
- The much-maligned Kansas offensive line opened enough holes in the second half for Sharp and RB Angus Quigley that ISU’s front seven had to honor the run. That opened up the entire field for Reesing and his receivers.
- Recently-benched LB Mike Rivera helped spark a solid second-half defensive effort by collecting seven tackles, including one for a loss, and playing with the kind of fire he played with throughout 2007.
- Rivera was joined by linebacking mates James Holt and Joe Mortensen with eight tackles each. Mortensen and DE Jake Laptad each got a sack, and Laptad also knocked down a pass on ISU’s last possession of the day.
- After ISU’s Arnaud completed 15 of his first 18 pass attempts and settled into a nice rhythm, KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen broke out a variety of blitzes, occasionally bringing everyone including a couple of managers, a trainer and a popcorn vendor. The strategy clearly rattled the ‘Clones’ signal-caller: once the blitzes stared, he went a very ordinary 12-of-27 the rest of the way.
- Kansas head coach Mark Mangino rolled the fourth-down dice twice in the second half. His team responded big-time, converting both, including a 23-yard Reesing-to-Kerry Meier TD pass on 4th-and-seven with 1:46 left in the third quarter. The PAT gave KU a 21-20 lead, a lead that they wouldn’t give up the rest of the evening.
- Finally, kudos to Mangino for continuing to play to score, up 21-20 with seven minutes left. After the win, he said, “You can't try to sit on this thing. When you have that attack mentality, the kids keep their edge.” I couldn’t help but wonder if former KU offensive coordinator Nick Quartaro’s brain exploded when he read that quote.
The Jayhawks still have plenty of question marks. One half of football doesn’t make a season. It can, however, make a big difference in how a season goes. Saturday’s second half reminded Kansas fans – and maybe Kansas players – just how good they can be. Mangino and his staff have plenty of reasons to ride their team hard this week, like getting themselves into a 20-point hole, allowing ISU to score late and make the game tighter than it should have been and rushing for just 34 first-half yards. I also have to think, though, that if this team goes on to win eight or nine games, fans and players alike will look back at the second half at Ames as the a difference-maker.