One of the reasons KU’s pass defense struggled in 2006 was the inexperience of young players in the d-backfield. So surely Jayhawk head coach Mark Mangino would turn to a veteran player to replace Harper, right?
Not necessarily. Instead, Mangino looked to true freshman Chris Harris, who beat out Anthony Webb and a host of other Jayhawks for the right to start in Saturday’s season opener against pass-happy Central Michigan and their hyped QB, Dan LeFevour.
Central Michigan, a 10-game winner and MAC champion a year ago, presented tremendous problems for KU’s much-maligned pass defense.
“We couldn’t have put our pass defense in much more of a worse situation,” KU head coach Mangino said. “Earlier in the week, I was concerned we were asking our defense to do too much.”
Harris – and everyone else in Memorial Stadium – knew what was coming, too.
“(CMU) knew it was my first game, we knew they were going to come at me,” Harris said, “so (the coaches) told me to play safe, get used to the game, get better as the game went along and keep everything in front of me.”
Harris did that and then some. Make no mistake: the Chippewas looked to pick on the 6-0/180 Bixby, OK, native. He responded by playing solid, no-nonsense defense while making nine tackles (three unassisted), joining LB James Holt for team-high honors.
When the final gun sounded, LeFevour – the country’s most prolific freshman passer in 2006 – managed 172 yards on 19-of-37 passing with just one TD, which didn’t come until the fourth quarter with Kansas leading, 45-0.
Mangino was very pleased with his first-year corner’s effort. “He played good pressed, he played good in zone,” the coach said. “For a true freshman, based on what I saw on the sideline, it was a doggone good game for a guy who last game was in high school.”
His counterpart at corner also had plenty of good things to say about his backfield mate.
“He had a real good game,” Aqib Talib said, noting Harris’ nine tackles, which co-led the Jayhawks (LB James Holt also had nine).
Talib said, “Cat didn’t let nothing get behind him. As a D-back – and especially as a corner – you don’t want to let nothing get behind you. A curl or a comeback, we can live with it and make the tackle. But he didn’t let anything get behind him, so for the first time playing in front of this many people, he had a great game.”
If one game can be any indicator, it looks like the Jayhawks have found in Harris a solid cornerback to fill in until Harper’s return, which is expected to be in another four weeks for the Big XII opener against Kansas State in Manhattan.
While it lasts, Harper says he’s confident he can help make this year’s KU defensive backfield a better group.
Harris said, “I just know I have to do my part to help make the whole defense better, and now I’ve got to work even harder.”