Jayhawks fly in face of critics to 2-0 start

Turner Gill went through his entire first season at Kansas
without winning two consecutive games. After all, the Jayhawks only
won three times all year.

It’s safe to assume they are feeling pretty good about the 2-0
record they will be taking to Georgia Tech on Saturday. They got a
bunch of talented freshmen up to speed with an easy win over
McNeese State, and then proved Saturday night they could win a
shootout, 45-42 against Northern Illinois.

Even though some glaring holes remain, primarily on defense, one
thing is already clear: Kansas has made plenty of long strides
since opening last season with a loss to North Dakota State.

”We’ve made a lot of progress,” linebacker Steven Johnson said
after the Jayhawks’ win over the Huskies, which wasn’t secure until
quarterback Jordan Webb found D.J. Beshears at the goal line on
fourth down for the go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds.

”The coaches find things we aren’t doing right and really harp
on it,” Johnson said. ”They really get after us and keep us
humble. It allows us to keep pressing on toward the goal.”

Webb threw for a career-high 281 yards and three touchdowns
against the Huskies. Beshears had seven catches for 70 yards and
two scores, and along with his kick returns and an 18-yard carry
totaled 285 all-purpose yards. All told, the Kansas offense piled
up 534 yards against Northern Illinois, the highest total since a
41-39 loss to Missouri to wrap up the 2009 season.

Already, eight different Jayhawks have scored a touchdown. Among
them are freshmen running backs Darrian Miller and Tony Pierson,
who provide the kind of speed not seen in Lawrence – at least by
the home team – since the 2007 season, when Kansas won the Orange
Bowl.

”I think we’re confident,” Gill said. ”We still have some
work to do, but I’m proud of the way we keep moving forward in a
great way. We’ll keep doing that while getting ready for the next
one.”

Most of that work will probably come on defense, where the
Jayhawks were gouged for 462 yards by Northern Illinois. That
included 315 yards on 27-of-33 passing by Chandler Harnish, who
felt afterward that he could have engineered one more scoring drive
had the clock not run out.

While the sample size is small – just two games – Kansas already
ranks 101st in total defense, giving up better than 440 yards on
average. The passing defense is even worse, with only seven teams
behind the Jayhawks, among them Ball State, Memphis and North
Texas.

To make matters worse, Gill said Sunday that defensive tackle
John Williams will miss the rest of the season after tearing an
ACL. Williams had been one of the Jayhawks’ top run-stuffing
linemen this season, and his loss will likely be magnified Saturday
when they visit Georgia Tech, which runs a wishbone-style offense
that is heavily geared toward the ground game.

”Last week we had correctable mistakes,” cornerback Greg Brown
said. ”This week, we were closer to the ball, we just didn’t make
plays.”

No kidding.

Every time the Jayhawks scored, Northern Illinois seemed to
march right down field for an answer, slicing and churning through
the backpedaling defense. After Alex Mueller’s field goal with 8:50
remaining made it 38-35, the Huskies marched 85 yards for the
go-ahead touchdown.

If not for Webb and Beshears finding their own answer, the
outcome could have been different.

The thing is, it wasn’t. And that may be the biggest difference
between these Jayhawks and the team that went 3-9 last year.
They’ve already proven they can handle adversity, and now they hit
the road for the first time this season with a chance to keep their
perfect start intact.

”We’ve got a lot of great resolve,” Gill said. ”They didn’t
lose their composure at all. They kept believing.”