Jayhawk Punish Northwestern St.

As season openers go, it wasn't always pretty, but the Kansas Jayhawks did enough to get the job done in a 49-18 victory over the Northwestern State Demons.

After starting out in the hole 6-0 because of a couple botched punt snaps, Kansas took back the momentum with an 88-yard Marcus Herford return on the ensuing kickoff, placing the ball at the seven.

“I knew those guys had their blocks, and I just hit the crease,” Herford said. “I might have gotten there if I went a little more vertical up the field, but I don’t know.”

Three plays later, Kansas quarterback Kerry Meier lofted a touchdown pass to receiver Marcus Henry on a fade route for a 7-6 lead. The Jayhawks increased that lead less than three minutes later, when Brian Murph fielded a Marshal Burton punt, danced around, and slid through an opening for a 70-yard touchdown.

The next time the Demons punted, Dexton Fields blocked the attempt and Jeff Foster fell on it in the end zone for a 21-6 advantage. The Jayhawks never looked back.

“The special teams, all the time and effort we put into it, is paying off,” said Kansas coach Mark Mangino. “We just have to work a little bit – the little things are important, you know, snapping the ball to the punter, the punter catching it, and kicking it through the uprights, that kind of thing.”

Kansas added another touchdown in the second quarter when Meier found Murph alone in the end zone. Meier completed eight of his 18 attempts for 110 yards. He passed for two touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for another 59 yards and two scores.

“I thought he did a great job for his first night out, his first college football game. You can see he stayed poised. He made a few mistakes here and there, but didn’t let it rattle him. You can see he has the ability to throw, to run, to do a lot of things. I’m very pleased with Kerry’s first night out.”

Mangino said that the coaches decided to start conservatively with Meier, then decided to take the cuffs off and let him play. Mangino said one of those plays, Meier’s 31-yard touchdown run where he bulled over a defender and dove into the end zone made him a little nervous.

“(I get nervous) any time your quarterback is diving, leaping and jumping,” Mangino said. “But you’ve got a thoroughbred; you’ve got to run him.”

Meier said he would continue to play that way.

“It’s part of the game,” Meier said. “You’ve got to fight for extra yards, and I’m going to do it.”

But Meier wasn’t the only player to have a nice game on offense, all told, the Jayhawks racked up 209 yards on the ground, 140 of which went to Jon Cornish, a new career high, on just 13 carries.

Cornish rushed for 29 yards in the first half before breaking free for a 69-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.

“I was a little bit afraid coming out of halftime,” Cornish said. “I only had about 30 yards or so. I needed to do a little somethin’ somethin’.”

Freshman Jake Sharp chipped in 39 yards on six carries, while Murph led KU receivers with 46 yards receiving.

Mangino said he was also proud of the performance by the defense, which held the Demons to slightly more than two yards per carry. Linebacker Mike Rivera led the way with 11 tackles, including one for loss, while fellow linebackers Eric Washington (seven tackles and a fumble recovery), and Joe Mortensen (four tackles for loss), also had strong games. Defensive end Rodney Allen had two sacks, while Sadiq Muhammad intercepted a pass.

Mangino said there were some mistakes defensively, but that it could largely be attributed to the younger players, and the staff utilizing different personnel groups in the second half to get more defenders playing time.

Rivera said it was nice to hit opposing players.

“It’s exciting to finally see us flying around, getting after it,” Rivera said. “I thought we did very well, and it’s important to just line up next week and build on it.”

Mangino said the game was a good opener.

“I think we’re about where I thought we would be after the game, where I hoped we would be,” Mangino said. “You could see some really good positive things that excite me about this ball club. And I see some mistakes that need to be corrected, some things of that sort. So I think we’re where we ought to be.”

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