It's hard to say whether Kansas University's football defense turned the corner last week against Colorado. After all, the CU offense has proven to be about as dangerous as a toothless puppy.
But Saturday's 20-15 victory over the Buffaloes could have been just what KU's defense needed - a good day against a less-stellar foe to reassure the Jayhawks of what they're capable of.
"It was pretty big because we finally got the monkey off our back," lineman Jason Thompson said. "People were counting us out, and I think we did a good job."
The Jayhawks (4-5 overall, 1-4 Big 12) now have to take the show on the road. Needing two victories for bowl eligibility, Kansas has just one home game left. That means the other monkey clinging onto their shoulder pads - the dreaded road struggles that have been documented to death - has to get shook off, too. Or else Kansas will be home for the holidays.
"We haven't won (on the road) for almost two years," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "We're due for a road win. It's about that time that we get one."
This much is certain: It won't come if the defense doesn't show how far it's progressed - particularly against the pass.
KU's late-game bugaboo earlier this season was fueled by holes in the pass defense, leading to comeback victories by Nebraska, Texas A&M;, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Some of those breakdowns seemed to be corrected at least a little bit against Colorado. The Buffaloes - not a great aerial team, sure - had just 144 passing yards against the Jayhawks, 61 coming on the meaningless final play of the game.
Talib, like he's been all season, was the catalyst. The preseason All-Big 12 cornerback picked off two passes, returning one 59 yards to set up the go-ahead score. He also had two pass breakups, upping his passes-defended total to a league-best 18.
"Aqib Talib played well," coach Mark Mangino said, "and has all season."
While Talib is a rock, Kansas coaches continue to monitor the rest of the Jayhawks' pass defense, looking for any edge to make them even a little better. Last week, speedy wide receiver Dominic Roux was moved to cornerback to provide more depth. Two weeks ago, the red shirt was lifted off Thompson to get more of a rotation going against Baylor.
It paid off versus Colorado. Now it gets a real test against Iowa State, a beaten-up team that has potential firepower among its offensive skilled players.
"Every week, we've been getting better and better," Talib said. "Colorado's passing attack wasn't as strong as Oklahoma State's or Baylor's. This will be a good test for us this week, Iowa State, to see if we did turn the corner."