LAWRENCE — Days after pulling off the greatest football comeback in school history, Kansas offensive coordinator Chuck Long tried to put the feeling into perspective.
"It was a very surreal moment," Long said. "I think we all woke up the next morning and said 'What happened?' "
The Jayhawks entered their game against Colorado looking for a win, any win, and got way more than they bargained for with a 52-45 victory over the Buffaloes that defied all of the most simple football logic. It is nearly impossible (or should be) for a team that trails by 28 points with 14 minutes, 52 seconds left to win a game in regulation, let alone this Kansas team.
KU had scored a combined 40 points in its four previous Big 12 games, but put up 35 unanswered in one quarter, restoring hope for Turner Gill's program.
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Even Gill, who tries to downplay the significance of most things, acknowledged that the Colorado win had more potential to serve as a building block for the future because of the way it was accomplished.
"Coaches, we can talk, we can try to inspire, try to motivate," Gill said, "but when you actually go out and physically do it, it speaks volumes, and it supports what you've been saying. I always talk about game day. That's when you can validate a lot more things. Our guys now have gained more confidence. Right now, our guys have done some great things. They've overcome some things, and they can continue to show themselves that they can play. They can play."
The Jayhawks are now 3-6 with three brutal games to go — at No. 9 Nebraska, at No. 12 Oklahoma State and against No. 20 Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium — but now they enter the toughest stretch of their season with evidence that they can be successful.
"It should be a turning point in this program," KU tight end Tim Biere said, "where we realize what Coach Gill is teaching us is working, that we can play like we did in the fourth quarter there."
Long is convinced that the Jayhawks began to build toward their momentous fourth quarter the week before at Iowa State. KU trailed the Cyclones 28-9 but mustered a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive finished off by a James Sims 5-yard catch from Quinn Mecham with 7 seconds left. At the time, it probably felt meaningless to everybody but the players who executed it.
"That's where it started," Long said. "Quinn gained some confidence to take it 80 yards on the road. They just stayed with it."
Of course, it took Kansas three quarters against Colorado to show that it had taken anything away from the Iowa State game. Trailing 45-17, KU continued to run the ball as though each drive was just another chance to improve.
"We just wanted to stick with our game plan and get better as an offense," Long said. "All of a sudden, it just snowballed into a great victory.... This is the greatest comeback I've been involved with as a player and a coach."
By Tuesday, KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush, whose defense gave up 464 yards to the Buffaloes, did not sound as overjoyed as Long.
"It was a very, very frustrating game," Torbush said. "We made some turnovers which helped us, but overall, am I satisfied defensively? Absolutely not."
Still, Torbush was able to see the greater meaning.
"Take where our program is, where we are," Torbush said. "To get behind like that and still win, I think that says something about the makeup of the players, the head coach and coaching staff."
That thing is that KU is not a team of quitters. And now, the Jayhawks are talking about the possibility of winning their last three games and making a bowl game. KU senior right tackle Brad Thorson is on board with that plan, but he wants his teammates to remember just how quickly things can go bad.
"It's a demonstration that you have to keep playing hard and stay together, and great things can happen," Thorson said. "But at the same time, we can play just like we did in the first half."
Gill returns to Lincoln — Gill credits his years playing and working under Nebraska coach Tom Osborne for much of his success, admitting that much of his coaching philosophy comes from observing Osborne's program. But Gill on Tuesday refused to make his return to Lincoln, Neb., this weekend into a story line.
"It probably adds excitement, more for my family," Gill said. "When you are a coach, you are so in tune with what you are trying to get done and what you are trying to prepare for, you try not to get caught up into all the outside things that are happening. The game is not about me. It is about the players and that is the truth of it all."
Gill's top assistants, Chuck Long and Carl Torbush, were pretty sure their boss would feel some emotions when he walks onto that field before the game.
"But you're not gonna hear much from him, I can tell you that," Torbush said.
* Gill said that Mecham will be his starter at quarterback for the third straight game. He said Mecham had earned the job with his performance the last two weeks.
Gill said he wasn't sure yet who would be the backup because of potential lingering issues with Jordan Webb's hurt shoulder.
* Gill said starting safety Lubbock Smith is doubtful with a "little bit" of a concussion. Smith will be replaced by Olaitan Oguntodu.