Northwestern: Coach Randy Walker

Jayhawk fans, think fast: What were you doing in mid-September of 1997? <p> Coming up blank? If so, don't feel bad. After all, it's been seven years. That's a pretty sizeable chunk of time to remember and it's also a painfully long stretch to go without a 3-0 start in college football.

Since the fall of 1997, no Kansas football team has strung together three consecutive wins to start the season. In fact, before this season the only year in which Kansas won its opening game since '97 was in 2001, when Terry Allen's Jayhawks topped Southwest Missouri State 24-10 in Lawrence. That was Allen's final year at Kansas and the beginning of a 3-8 season.

If Kansas wants to go 3-0 for the first time since Coach Allen's rookie campaign in '97 it will take another great defensive effort by the new and improved Kansas D. So far this season the Jayhawk defense has held its opponents to a combined total of just 17 points in the first two games. In the season opener when the Kansas offense faltered early, it was the revamped defense that held Tulsa to just 141 total yards of offense. In week two versus Toledo the defense again delivered a great performance as they held the 2003 national receptions leader, Lance Moore, to just 9 yards on three measly catches. The KU defenders also made Bruce Gradkowski, an ESPN.com Heisman Trophy candidate, look about as comfortable as an ice sculpture in the Sahara.

In other words, while it's been a total team effort getting to the brink of 3-0, the defense has played a major role and will again be called upon on Saturday to help Kansas end their seven year, season opening drought.

With that in mind, here's a sneak peek of the challenge that awaits the KU defense in Evanston. The preview comes straight from the mouth of Northwestern head coach Randy Walker. The sixth year head man was a guest earlier this week on KLWN's Rock Chalk Sports Talk, which is streamed live, daily on Phog.net. Here's what the Wildcat coach had to say about the offensive attack that Kansas will try to tackle on Saturday.

On Northwestern's more balanced attack in 2004:

RW: "It's good that we were a little more balanced as an offense. Last year we became primarily a running football team and while it was successful for us, I don't think you can win successfully and continually with a one dimensional attack.

We put a lot of time into our passing game in the off-season and tried to make it a lot better and I think so far, we've been pleased with the progress we've made. We've thrown the ball much better than we did a year ago and I think we can now balance and match our running game and put a good offense on the field."

On the progress of junior quarterback Brett Basanez:

RW: "Brett has really done a great job -- improving first as a football player, just with the things you have to do at quarterback. As a person and a guy who understands football, he has grown a great deal. He's able to step into that leadership role that you need."

On the top receiving targets for Basanez: RW: "I'm not sure we have a go to guy. We think we have some very solid wide receivers. Getting Mark Philmore and Ashton Aikens back from injuries last year was a big help to us, and the emergence of Jonathan Fields. And last year when some of our receivers went down in the middle of the season we had some guys get a lot of reps like Brandon Horn and some other guys. We have a number of guys that we think we can throw the football to.

On starting running back Noah Herron:

RW: "Noah has come out of the blocks and played well. I think he came out slow against TCU, but I think he played solid football against Arizona State. We think he's in the right kind of mode and he's going to balance our attack well. We think that Noah is maybe a more complete back than we've ever had here. He does a great job in the passing game and has some of the best hands at running back that I've ever been around."

There's little doubt that Saturday's opponent will offer the Kansas defense another stiff test. So far, they've passed each challenge with flying colors, but in order to reach their goal of a perfect non-conference slate, the Hawks might be in need of their best defensive effort yet. Kickoff is set for 1 PM on Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, IL.


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