LAWRENCE — Every Kansas football player had his own personal moment when he began to believe that the Jayhawks could beat 15th-ranked Georgia Tech.
For receiver Daymond Patterson, it came last Sunday when the team watched film of the North Dakota State loss. He knew KU would never play any worse.
For quarterback Jordan Webb, it came Saturday when the Jayhawks embarked on their first touchdown drive of the season.
For linebacker Steven Johnson, it came in the fourth quarter as Patterson made magic by eluding what seemed like an entire hive of Yellow Jackets for a 32-yard touchdown.
The belief of an entire program — that the Jayhawks could still be special under first-year coach Turner Gill — became reality when a pass by Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt fell incomplete on fourth-and-8 with one minute remaining.
Kansas 28, Georgia Tech 25.
How did it happen? What did it mean? The Jayhawks tried to comprehend as thousands of their fellow students rushed the Memorial Stadium field to celebrate. "I was like, 'They're acting like we haven't won a game in like 10 years,'æ" Johnson said. "Then I was like, 'Wait a second.æ.æ.æ.’æ"
KU hadn't won in 11 months! It was nine games ago that the Jayhawks last had this feeling. Anything is possible. That's what Gill had told them after they had embarrassed themselves against North Dakota State, and the man was right.
Sometimes in the horseshoe-shaped stadium that sits below the picturesque green hill, it has been hard to see all the possibilities. Twenty-four straight times since Kansas beat No. 2 Oklahoma in 1984, top-15 teams have come to Lawrence and walked out with a victory. Not this time.
"We played like we were ranked in the top 15," Webb said. "Not them."
The Jayhawks (1-1) gained back the respect they lost last week and more, thanks to a youth movement. Webb, a redshirt freshman making his first start, connected on 18 of 29 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He handed the ball off 17 times to freshman running back James Sims, who rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown in his college debut.
Sims, a native of Irving, Texas, sports a Kid 'N Play-style high-top fade and accordingly did not shy away from the attention that he and Webb will now demand.
"We'll have a bright future," Sims said. "We'll just build on from this game, continue to work harder and harder and get to the Big 12 championship."
A statement like that would have led to a punchline just days ago. The Jayhawks are the ones laughing now. All week, as people discounted their chances against Georgia Tech's flexbone option offense, they kept quiet and went to work.
"I watched film until 2 o'clock in the morning," Johnson said. "One night, I was like 'I need to go to sleep. I got a game in a few days.'æ"
By Saturday, the KU defense felt confident in defensive coordinator Carl Torbush's game plan. Last season at Mississippi State, Torbush faced Georgia Tech, so that gave him an advantage. The Jayhawks were well-schooled and knew it.
"Before the game, our safety Olaitan Oguntodu got us all huddled up," Johnson said. "He was like, 'I believe we're gonna win this game.æ.æ.æ. Some people think we're gonna go out there and play their game. We tell them when they're ready to pass. We'll put them in third-and-13.’æ"
The defense had the bigger challenge this week, but the offense still had to prove that it could lend a hand. Gill and KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long went with Webb over last week's starter, Kale Pick, and decided to play mostly out of the spread and no-huddle. In short, Kansas looked like Kansas again.
"We talked about playing fast," Gill said. "We helped ourselves in saying we're going to force the issues in a lot of ways offensively. Just play fast and then they have to play fast."
Midway through the first quarter, it was happening. Webb completed all four passes on KU's second drive and found Bradley McDougald for a 15-yard touchdown pass. What a relief. On the next drive, Webb play-action faked and found tight end Tim Biere for a 2-yard touchdown. KU led 14-7, and Biere, who fumbled twice last week, could move on with his life. Now that's a relief.
From there, KU kept answering. It's what good teams do, and the Jayhawks believe that's what they are.
"We just had to see it," Johnson said. "It was kind of the unknown thing. We just had to see it."