Jayhawks Look to Bounce Back

After a disappointing and heartbreaking 6-3 season-opening loss to North Dakota State last week, Kansas looks to rebound and shock the college football world with a victory over No. 15 Georgia Tech on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

Kickoff is 11 a.m. (CT) with the game televised on FSN.

It won't be easy against the Yellow Jackets, a team which demolished South Carolina State, 41-10, last Saturday at home. Tech features a potent spread-option offense and Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in senior Joshua Nesbitt. He rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina State, one of six quarterbacks nationally to rush for 100 yards in Week One and just one of three QBs to rush for three TDs.

Tech, which only attempted eight passes against SCSU, boasted seven players who rushed for at least 28 yards. The Yellow Jackets racked up 372 rushing yards for the game.

Georgia Tech, which is coming off its first outright ACC championship since 1990, has appeared in a bowl game in 13 consecutive seasons. KU head coach Turner Gill has great respect for the program and third-year head coach Paul Johnson.

"We're well aware that they're an outstanding opponent. Their record speaks for itself," Gill said. "Paul Johnson has done a tremendous job there and he's done a tremendous job wherever he has been. They run that spread option, everybody tunes into that triple option. That's just one play that they run. It's more of a multiple type of offensive scheme that they run. They've got a whole lot of different things that they do out of it. We have to be very disciplined. We have to make sure that our guys are in-tune with their particular assignments.

"... (Nesbitt) is a key guy in their offense. He is an outstanding player with excellent size and good speed and he can run their offense to precision. Defensively, they've made an adjustment. They're running a 3-4 scheme. There's going to be a little different look than what we were practicing with for NDSU."

In addition to Nesbitt, Tech features senior center Sean Bedford (ACC co-Offensive Lineman of the Week), senior running back Anthony Allen (9.7 yards per carry in 2009), senior linebacker Brad Jefferson (led team with 95 tackles last season), and junior safety Jerrard Tarrant, one of the nation's top punt returners with a 13.4 yard average in 2009.

The Jayhawks will have to play a complete game to beat Tech and fix some problem areas from Week One, where the running backs, offensive line, and quarterbacks contributed sub-par performances. KU also had eight penalties, fumbled three times, and was intercepted once.

To help remedy matters, Gill will start redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Webb over sophomore Kale Pick. Webb, who entered the North Dakota State game with over 11 minutes to play, completed 6 of 11 passes for 59 yards in his career debut.

"Looking at things that happened in the (North Dakota State) game and overall with the things going on, (Webb) gives us the best opportunity at this point and time and he deserves an opportunity to see what he can do as a starter," Gill said.

Gill will also start junior Jeremiah Hatch at center. Hatch, who did not play in the season opener, entered the season with a team-best 24 consecutive starts. Senior center Sal Capra will move from center to left guard, replacing sophomore Duane Zlatnick.

True freshman running back James Sims will see his first action Saturday in hopes of boosting KU's rushing attack. Gill said Tuesday that redshirt freshman running back Deshaun Sands is "very questionable" due to a leg injury. Sands, however, practiced on Wednesday.

Gill knows the offense will have to step up after scoring just a field goal against North Dakota State. And the defense, which gave up only 168 yards of total offense against NDSU, will have to be on guard the entire game with Tech' big-play spread-option offense.

"The keys to the game — first of all, we've got to score a touchdown. We've got to score and we've got to score often," Gill said. "We've got to be extremely efficient. You're only going to have so many possessions on offense just because of their running attack, you're going to have less time on the clock. We definitely need to limit their big plays on offense. I think we have to come out of there with a +2 turnover margin. If we don't do that, it could be a very tough situation for us. We are here to improve and we are here to put us in a situation where we can win football games."
 
Senior cornerback Chris Harris is ready for the big challenge on defense.

"You have to beat GT by being disciplined," Harris said. "Everybody is going to have a responsibility. A linebacker might have the quarterback this time. Somebody might be watching the pitch. You've got to stay disciplined, you can't try to be the hero. You have to stay focused on your job."

Gill said after Wednesday's practice that he was encouraged how the team was focused and coming along.

"The guys have been practicing well the last two days," Gill said. "I do like the way our coaches have coached. I do like the way our players have tuned into what they need to get done. There is a lot more energy and a lot more positive things happening. Obviously we have to transfer that into a game."

The Jayhawks lamented their lack of energy and concentration on offense last Saturday. But they're prepared to put Game One behind them and pull off a dramatic upset against Tech.

"I feel like there's extra fire in all of us," said junior linebacker Steven Johnson, who had a career-high nine tackles against NDSU. "We want to be able to show what we can do and prove that all of our hard work will pay off. We have a big challenge coming up, but I feel like we can do it together."

KU knows an upset victory would be monumental for the program. And it would also prove many doubters wrong.

"I think it would be great for the program," senior running back Angus Quigley said. "It would show we actually do have the capability to put things behind us like in our mission statement: ‘Learn and press on towards your goal.' (We got to) learn from last week and come back.

"If we were to get a win, that would show fans a lot about our football team. It would show us about our football team. It would show what type of guys we have, that we're not going to lay down and just let the season go to waste, that we have fight in us. That's the plan. We're going to go out there and try to change things."

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