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.”