Lincoln. Neb. It smelled like a bloody massacre. Looked like one, too. All red in the stands, all red on the field, another wasted trip for a Kansas University football team with a propensity for packing butter for the players' fingers and little else on futile road trips.
And then, arriving a quarter late, yet soon enough to push the game that started as a rout into overtime, a KU offense that couldn't be stopped, except by itself, did as it pleased Saturday night on one of college football's grandest stages, Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.
When the overtime period arrived, the magic vanished, and Nebraska prevailed, 39-32, but the respect the KU offense and lead magician Adam Barmann earned won't go away anytime soon.
Barmann threw for 405 yards, none in a first quarter in which he was 0-for-6 and threw two interceptions. At that point, the scoreboard showed Nebraska with a 17-0 lead. More numbers: KU had 16 total yards in the first quarter and finished with 574 for the night.
Asked what he told Barmann to settle him down after the abysmal start, KU coach Mark Mangino quickly answered: "I challenged him. He's a senior. The settling-down days are over. I challenged him, and he met the challenge."
Jon Cornish met the challenge of playing a Nebraska defense that centered its game plan on stopping him. He rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries, making it two 100-plus rushing performances against the Cornhuskers.
"I had a scholarship offer from them, and it fell through, so I sort of have a personal vendetta against them," Cornish said.
Barmann, to say the least,
has not been as consistent a performer as his senior classmate Cornish throughout his career. Even by Barmann's standards, though, this was a split-personality of a game.
In a bizarre second quarter alone, the good Barmann and bad Barmann were on display. In the second half, it was all good.
In the second quarter, KU ran 31 offensive plays and amassed 263 yards in total offense. Remarkable. Yet, the Jayhawks trailed at the half, 24-10. All four turnovers came in the first half, and all were of Barmann's making. (Can you say Kerry Meier in Toledo?) He threw three picks and, when KU was on the verge of putting points on the board, lost a fumble.
"My shoulder was a little sore, so I couldn't go in for him," Mangino cracked afterward.
And then there was normally sure-handed Derek Fine. He dropped two Barmann passes in the end zone. Then, in keeping with the spirit of the evening, Fine (five catches, 84 yards) made a nice comeback, catching a touchdown pass that would have been the game winner if the 25-24 lead with 6:32 left in regulation had stood up.
Injured Meier wasn't available to play. When he returns, he'll have plenty of help. Brian Murph (eight receptions, 129 yards, one touchdown) is a big-play threat again. Dexton Fields (eight catches, 108 yards) displayed extraordinary hands and agile-enough feet to stay in bounds on a couple of highlight catches. Fine knows how to get open and is tough to bring down.
The firepower is there. The road victories, not yet. Based on Saturday's comeback, it won't be long.