KU D preps for big Week 2 challenge

After giving up more than 400 yards of offense to Week One opponent McNeese State, the Kansas Jayhawks defense faces a formidable foe in Week Two - in the form of Northern Illinois and standout quarterback Chandler Harnish. Fortunately, in the minds of Kansas coaches and players the issues that cropped up in last weekend's victory over the Cowboys are eminently correctable.

Those who have met Vic Shealy know he's a the definition of a positive guy.

Talk football with him, and his passion for the game and the depth of his knowledge are immediately apparent. Ask him about his duties as defensive coordinator of the Kansas Jayhawks and, eyes alight, he'll immediately go into detail about his unit's improved speed, the work ethic of the veterans and the host of exciting newcomers.

Saturday night, however, shortly after the Jayhawks had put the finishing touches on their impressive season-opening victory over McNeese State, Shealy wasn't shy about letting some frustration seep through.

Despite the win, the Kansas defense gave an imperfect performance in its first action of the 2011 season, giving up 24 points and allowing the Cowboys to rack up 420 yards of offense.

Much of the damage - 325 yards of it, to be exact - was done through the air; more specifically the screen game. Though they were able to frequently force McNeese State into third-and-long situations, the Jayhawks D found itself all-too-often unable to get off the field.

The Cowboys converted 9 of 17 third-down attempts, many the result of quarterbacks Riley Dodge and Cody Stroud lofting soft passes to open running backs and wide receivers.

According to Shealy, the screen game employed by McNeese State is likely more complex than any other they will encounter this season.

"I don't think we did a really good job, scheme-wise, against it," he said, following the game. "We tried - it may not look like it - but we actually tried four or five different things. But half their offense was probably the screen game tonight, and it's disappointing."

Additionally, the offense the Cowboys rolled out Saturday differed significantly from the one Kansas coaches saw on the hours of film they scouted while compiling their game plan.

"We had worked more toward what they had shown, a power-run game, play-action pass," Shealy explained. "It was a little bit of a tough week for us to defend an offense that was 180 degrees different than what our own offense ran."

Fortunately, both coaches and players see the issues as eminently correctable.

The speed and talent are there at virtually every position. Now, it's just a matter of getting newcomers such as Pat Lewandowski, Tunde Bakare, Darius Willis and Malcolm Walker - as well as returning players like Keba Agostinho and Toben Opurum - into the flow of things on game day; making sure they understand their assignments and responsibilities, and carrying them out accordingly.

"First of all, we got a win," said freshman safety Keeston Terry. "And that's the most important thing. We got a win and I don't think we played very well."

"They were pretty clever with their formations," added junior cornerback Greg Brown. "They were changing formations, running the screens in different ways and had different guys pulling different ways, which kind of hid the play."

The Jayhawks will need to make the most of this week, because the competition definitely ramps up a notch this coming Saturday, when Northern Illinois rolls into town with a 1-0 record of their own following a 49-26 shellacking of Army on Saturday.

The Huskies put up 509 yards of offense with an extremely balanced attack - 289 on the ground and 220 through the air. To the surprise of no one, much of the damage was done by senior quarterback Chandler Harnish.

One of the most productive athletes in the history of NIU football, in 2010 Harnish threw for 2,530 yards and 21 touchdowns - with just five interceptions - and rushed for 836 yards and another seven scores. His play earned him a spot on the Mid-American Conference first-team, and MAC Player of the Year honors from the Touchdown Club of Columbus.

Harnish didn't miss a beat Saturday, completing 12-of-19 passes for 195 yards and five touchdowns and rumbling for 94 on the ground, tacking on another score. Of the Huskies' 49 points, the senior gunslinger had a direct hand in 42 of them.

The Jayhawks appear eager to face the challenge.

"I heard a couple of quotes from their quarterback," said junior safety Bradley McDougald. "He's definitely a confident person. He believes they have the tools to come in here and get a victory."

"We have a lot of respect for that dude," sophomore cornerback Tyler Patmon added, of Harnish. "He's a great quarterback, he showed it last year, he showed it first game. So it's a great challenge for us and we're looking forward to it."

The news wasn't all bad last weekend for the Kansas defense. The Jayhawks did hold McNeese State to just 95 yards on the ground, and 2.8 yards per carry. Throw in three sacks and 10 tackles for loss, and it makes for an impressive performance against the run.

"Any time you have 10 tackles for loss and three sacks - I don't care who you're playing, you get 10 TFLs and less than three yards per attempt, I'll take the rush numbers," Shealy said.

In addition to Harnish's abilities with his legs, the Huskies boast an extremely talented pair of running backs in former Fort Scott (KS) Community College standout Jazz Hopkins - who went for 138 yards in the victory over Army - and Hutchinson (KS) Community College transfer Jamal Womble.

If the Jayhawks can eliminate the Northern Illinois ground game, they'll succeed in making Harnish more one dimensional - something Shealy would like very much to see. And while it's never a true positive when an opponent goes for more than 400 yards offensively, there is one potential silver lining.

The coaches now have a great deal of film to evaluate - an invaluable teaching tool with so many inexperienced players on the two deep.

"We've got to experience a little bit more (game action)," he said. "Find out what some of our guys do well, and where are maybe some of the points we've got to get them better at."


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