LAWRENCE — Fresh off another career day that saw them trade the school's career receptions record in the span of a few minutes, Kansas wide receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe entered the locker room after No. 16 KU's 41-36 victory over Iowa State and began trading jokes.
"Just about who's on top right now," Meier said.
Elsewhere in the room, the Kansas defensive players sat silent. Defensive end Jake Laptad said nobody spoke up after the Jayhawks gave up 512 yards.
"For the defense in the locker room, I don't think it felt like we won," Laptad said. "I think we felt like we almost let down this team. We can't have that happen again."
Laptad's voice wavered as he relayed what anyone who watched Saturday's Big 12 opener could easily see: If Iowa State quarterback Austen Arnaud didn't overthrow wide-open Darius Darks in the Kansas end zone on fourth down with a minute left, the Jayhawks would be 0-1 in the league. And if Meier and Briscoe didn't catch 26 passes from Todd Reesing on a prolific offensive day, the defense would be taking the blame for an unforgivable home defeat.
"Hopefully, this was a wake-up call for us," KU defensive back Justin Thornton said. "It is for me. I see what's going on, and we've got to get this fixed or else we're just going to end up an average team. There's no way we're going to win the Big 12 North or beat some of these other teams in our league playing like that."
In the Big 12, there is no week off for a defense. Iowa State, widely predicted to finish last in the North division, proved that. For the second straight year, Arnaud made the KU defense look undisciplined and foolish. Arnaud completed 25 of 40 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 14 times for 67 yards and a score.
When he didn't hurt the Jayhawks, running back Alexander Robinson took over, toting it 27 times for 152 yards and two scores. KU's rushing defense, ranked third nationally coming in, proved fraudulent against Iowa State's massive offensive line.
Players talked about just needing to show up today at the Anderson Family Football Complex and dissect the film, but KU coach Mark Mangino gave an indication that this may not be an easy fix.
"You can't be successful on defense without that good tough mental edge," Mangino said. "I think some of the kids on defense have it, and I think some were exposed today. I knew in April they were going to be exposed. You all found out today. That's why we haven't settled on firm positions at linebacker, because it's a roller-coaster. The secondary I think is underachieving right now."
Mangino wasn't sacrificing his players. He left plenty of criticism for himself.
"Maybe we have them doing too many things," Mangino said. "Sometimes less is better, and as a coach, I gotta understand that. You gotta know what our kids can do and what they can't. Maybe I have not assessed that properly. I assure you I will reassess it (tonight)."
While defensive players will fight for their jobs this week, offensive players will continue to fight for their place in the record books. Reesing's 442 passing yards were the second-most in KU history. Meier's 16 receptions that amassed 142 yards and two touchdowns broke his and Briscoe's former single-game record of 14.
Briscoe, who gave KU the lead for good at 34-30 with a terrific 46-yard touchdown catch, finished with 12 catches for 186 yards and two scores. He has 2,420 career yards, passing Willie Vaughn's old record of 2,266.
"I don't think you can find a duo that's better than them," Reesing said. "If you do, I'll challenge that they're not."
At one point Saturday, Briscoe took over the top spot on the KU career receptions list. By the end of the game, Meier had usurped him. They seem to be having a duel.
"Kind of like a one-upper," Meier said. "It does kind of have that feel. Sometimes, it's my drive, and it seems like (Reesing) is hitting me a bunch of times. Sometimes, it's 80's (Briscoe's) drive. You see one guy do one thing, the other guy is gonna try and step up and do something better."
The Kansas defense would settle for somebody doing something at this point.
"I've been trying to tell you, when people ask me about this team compared to the 2007 team, on offense, it's a fair comparison," Mangino said. "But I told you that you couldn't make a complete comparison because we had to mature in some areas, and obviously you see where we need to mature. Now, do I think our defense is a wash and won't play well this year? No, I don't believe that for a minute."