LAWRENCE — There are turning points for every program, moments that either send a team tumbling down an unforeseen path or keep it heading in the right direction.
When the Kansas Jayhawks jogged to the locker room trailing 20-0 at Iowa State last year in their Big 12 opener, all of the respect the program had gained with the Orange Bowl victory a year before was hanging in the balance.
"That group last year, earlier in the year, they took some things for granted," KU coach Mark Mangino said. "They listened to all the talk about 2007. I told them a zillion times, 'That's history, boys.' What you need is to get spanked a few times. We went to South Florida and got spanked, we were getting a spanking in Ames, and finally, everybody looked around and said, 'This is 2008. We better get a move on here.' "
The locker-room scene in Ames is one that every KU player and coach will never forget. Despite playing through a half where nothing went right, the Jayhawks didn't lose their cool. They sat down at their lockers and awaited instruction from coaches, who had already decided it was not the time for fire and brimstone.
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"When you're down 20 points at the half, it doesn't do any good to kick the water bucket," Mangino said. "That's not going to get it done. We got together, we talked about 'Get kids in the right frame of mind, be positive.' I gathered them up, said 'We deserve to be where we are right now, but we can change it. This is a good test of our courage. We'll find out what kind of football team we are by the second half here.' "
If nothing else, the Jayhawks felt like a different team.
"That composure we showed in the locker room was probably the most composure I've felt on a team in my life," KU kicker Jacob Branstetter said. "At that moment, when we walked out of the locker room to start the second half, I knew we were going to win. I sensed it, I felt it. That'll be what I remember for the rest of my life."
In that second half, the current Kansas team, the one that beat Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium and Minnesota in the Insight Bowl last season on the way to being ranked No. 16 this season, began to come into focus.
KU running back Jake Sharp had been on the bench the entire first half, and his season to that point had been a profound disappointment. Mangino said he decided at halftime that Sharp, not Angus Quigley or Jocques Crawford, had to be his No. 1 guy. Within three minutes, Sharp had caught a 67-yard touchdown pass from Todd Reesing, and the Jayhawks were on the board.
Sharp would run for another touchdown and finish the day with 186 total yards, leading Kansas to a season-saving 35-33 comeback victory. Sharp has held the starting job ever since.
All of that leads up to Saturday, when the Jayhawks will have a chance to prove that they learned something from last year's scary league debut against Iowa State.
"You gotta take every opponent seriously," KU cornerback Daymond Patterson said. "It was a good win, but we don't want to have to do that."
Nearly two years removed from a 12-1 season and an Orange Bowl win, the Jayhawks also realize they can't take anything for granted.
"I think we kind of slept last year," KU linebacker Justin Springer said. "We can't do that this year. We have a good team; but at the same time, we don't have the best talent in the Big 12. They can beat us if we don't come out hard."