LAWRENCE — Turner Gill wants Kansas fans to believe, and, if the last two games had stopped at halftime, they wouldn't be staring at much of a leap of faith.
In the first half against Georgia Tech two weeks ago and against Texas Tech on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the vision for KU's future under Gill was easy to see. With a strong and stubborn running game led by a crew of talented underclassmen, a quarterback who feeds off the momentum of that ground game and a young defense that finds a way to get off the field just enough, the Jayhawks have been competitive and seemed like a team worth a longer look.
At Georgia Tech, KU trailed by a touchdown at halftime. Against Texas Tech, the Jayhawks led by three.
Then Kansas disappears into the locker room. And, about a half-hour later, they return to the field and look like a different team — or, rather, the team everybody thought they'd be this season.
Texas Tech, following the model executed by the Yellow Jackets, walloped Kansas in the third quarter and flew back to Lubbock with a 45-34 victory over the Jayhawks in the teams' Big 12 opener.
The Red Raiders, 4-0 and 1-0 in the Big 12, won the third quarter 21-0, outgaining KU 224-73 and erasing all of the goodwill the Jayhawks accumulated in taking a 20-0 lead and a 27-24 advantage to the half.
KU, 2-2 and 0-1, missed a gargantuan opportunity against a vulnerable Tech squad to jumpstart their quest for a bowl berth and at least bring a 3-3 record into its home game Oct. 21 against Kansas State. The Jayhawks badly needed this one with a trip to No. 5 Oklahoma State next week and No. 2 Oklahoma the following week in Lawrence.
"We'll continue to talk about that as a staff as far as what we're doing at halftime," Gill said. "What are we talking about, what are we doing and how are we getting that communicated to the players. That way, when they come out after halftime, we can play better."
Kansas' defense hasn't played consistently well no matter the time of game. The KU offense, however, has shown a ton of promise, which makes the offensive disappearance more disturbing. It's possible the Jayhawks, who play at a high tempo, lose their rhythm sitting in the locker room. Of course, that's not a scenario that's going away anytime soon.
"That can't be our excuse," KU quarterback Jordan Webb said, "because we're going to have halftime every game. We've just got to come out and execute. That's all it is."
Much is being asked of Kansas' offense this season, but it has been up to the challenge other than in the last two third quarters. On Saturday, KU put up 478 yards and achieved perfect balance with 239 yards in the air and on the ground. The Jayhawks' undoing — and a huge part of how the game began to swing Tech's way in the second quarter — were Webb's three interceptions. The first came because of a miscommunication, Webb said, and the next two came off deflections.
Webb still completed 16 of 22 passes, but the picks proved lethal.
"That's probably the big deciding factor," Gill said. "You can't turn the ball over three or four times against good football teams and win. Just can't do it."
The offense had a small margin for error once again on Saturday. But in the first half, the KU defense looked like it had taken advantage of the bye week, forcing five stops out of nine Tech possessions. KU safety Keeston Terry corralled the Jayhawks' first interception of the season.
But the Red Raiders made a key adjustment at halftime, going to a hurry-up offense. That exposed the Jayhawks' lack of depth and also forced them to stay in a base defense more often because there wasn't enough time to relay a new play. The whole experience confirmed a frustrating reality for KU defensive coordinator Vic Shealy.
"We don't have the depth that we can play a lot of guys right now," Shealy said. "It's a problem. A big problem. We have guys that are trying to get better, but there's a certain standard you've got to be able to play with. Not every guy that we would like to be able to play at that standard is there yet."
So Kansas goes back to the drawing board for another week. Players talked Saturday about their goals still being in front of them, but they know there was a chance for a big win lurking in the too-recent past.
"You can't get it back now," KU linebacker Steven Johnson said. "I look forward to just turning this around and getting this sick feeling out of our stomachs."