Saturday Kansas and Turner Gill posted their second win of the season with a 45-42 win over Northern Illinois. Headed into the game the Huskies were favored and the Jayhawks were able to turn a 14 point deficit into an eventual win and take their season to 2-0. It was a game that provided some definite optimism about the direction of Kansas football under Gill and while you take the good with the bad, this one seemed to present more good.
So what did we learn about Kansas football in this one? What can we take from an early non-conference matchup?
Offensively This is a Different Team in 2011
A year ago the Kansas offense was abysmal. They couldn't run the football, the couldn't throw the football and the offense was about as boring and unoriginal as it gets. This year the Kansas offensive line is firing off the ball and getting a push. This is opening running lanes for a stable of four, perhaps even five running backs and James Sims has recorded back to back 100 yard games in the first two of the season. That running game is easing the burden on Jordan Webb and keeping opposing defenses honest. All in all the Jayhawks are a run first team, but they are showing more balance and efficiency in the passing game. It's everything Turner Gill and Chuck Long said they wanted to do a year ago and just didn't seem to have the horses to accomplish it. The best part might be the fact that Kansas is doing all of this with a very young group of skilled position players. There will be more growing pains, but the future looks promising.
Kansas will Compete
The roll over and die mentality that seemed to permeate at times during the 2010 season appears to be gone. Granted the Jayhawks haven't truly had their backs against the wall when facing a team like and Oklahoma as of yet, but down 21-7 a year ago the Jayhawks would have likely folded. Saturday night Kansas pulled even at half despite facing that same deficit against the Huskies. It was a turning point in the game and that momentum carried to the second half and ultimately to a Jayhawk win.
Kansas is Still Thin and Has Work To Do On Defense
The Jayhawks received news that they will be without junior defensive tackle John Williams for the remainder of the season. They also lost junior linebacker Tunde Bakare during the game on Saturday. The loss of both were noted during the game and any extended absence certainly will show the lack of depth for Kansas especially on the front line. In addition the Jayhawk defense just isn't clicking at this point. To their credit they have faced two very strong offensive football teams and they haven't been giving up huge plays, but the talent level of the opposition is only going to increase and Kansas will need to find another level on the defensive side of the football in order to supplement the improvement on the offensive side.