Tampa, Fla. — The Kansas University defense was closing in on pushing its touchdown shutout streak to 10 quarters, when the defense that to that point had bent but never broken was blown to bits for roughly 20 minutes of game clock Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.
For those 20 minutes, beginning with a few minutes left in the first half and ending a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter of a 37-34 loss to the University of South Florida, the KU defense allowed four touchdowns.
For the other 160 minutes, the defense has not allowed a single touchdown.
What possibly could have happened to a defense that returned nine starters from a 12-1 season capped by an Orange Bowl victory?
"We just didn't have the edge that we had in the first half," safety Darrell Stuckey said. "We just failed to make plays when it counted."
It looked as if the edge was missing, as well as the endurance and, strangely, the speed. The defense ... looked ... so .... slow ... during ... the ... 31-0 ... stretch .... of ... the ... game. Why?
If the game had been played in Colorado, at high altitude, many would have theorized that the thin air sapped the visitors unaccustomed to playing under such conditions and didn't bother the home team that lives in such an environment.
Tampa isn't a high-altitude city, so put that theory in the paper shredder. Wait, maybe just put it in the recycle bin and adapt the materials to fit the circumstances.
The game was played in intensely uncomfortable humidity, Florida humidity. A stretch? Maybe, which by definition also means maybe not.
(Aside: I did get sapped of strength rather quickly playing Laser Tag on Thursday night, but wasn't sure if that might have been because it was the most strenuous exercise I had done in roughly 30 years).
You don't go 12-1 by taking the Alibi Ike route, so no Kansas player or coach would ever acknowledge that humidity could have had something to do with the 20-minute slow, weak stretch that prevented KU from doing what it had hoped to do with a nation of college football fans watching.
"We were looking forward to being on the stage and playing our hearts out, showing everybody we deserve all the publicity we've gotten, or for some people to show we're better than they think we are," Stuckey said. "It just didn't go our way."
Receiver Johnathan Wilson had a huge day, catching 10 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Still, he couldn't help but feel a little empty from the experience.
"We wanted to come out and show the country we were a good team, we were supposed to be ranked," Wilson said. "We weren't just talk. We weren't just a one-year wonder because that's what everybody thinks. So we had something to prove tonight, just came up short. I think we've still got a chance. The season's not over at all."
If the Florida muggy air played a part, that correction already has been made. As for trying to find a way to put more heat on the opposing quarterback than quality foes will put on Todd Reesing, that's a considerably more iffy proposition.