I’m really intrigued by tomorrow evening’s KU football game against Northern Illinois.
This is a nice test for the Jayhawks, who did some good things in their season-opening win over McNeese State. But Northern Illinois is a few steps up from McNeese. The Huskies are coming off an 11-3 season and a 40-17 win over Fresno State in the Humanitarian
Bowl. They have a strong quarterback in senior Chandler Harnish, who is as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm.
Harnish ran for 94 yards and passed for 195 yards and five touchdowns in Northern Illinois’ Week 1 win over Army, 49-26. Last season, the Huskies ranked No. 7 nationally by averaging 260.4 yards rushing and they pounded Army for 289 in the opener.
Jasmin Hopkins, replacing 1,400-yard rusher Chad Spann at tailback, rushed for 138 yards on 14 carries. This is a dangerous offensive team that will test the Jayhawks’ defense, which wasn’t very good against McNeese State.
But Kansas ran the ball well in the opener and might have a chance to do so again against Northern Illinois, which allowed Army 303 yards rushing. The Huskies clearly are mostly about offense, so Kansas might be able to get itself into a shoot-out Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Northern Illinois is coached by Dave Doeren, who grew up in Shawnee Mission and was a KU assistant under Mark Mangino from 2002-05. Doeren replaced Cheney native Jerry Kill at Northern Illinois this season after five seasons at Wisconsin, where he most recently was the Badgers’ defensive coordinator.
Obviously, he wants to shore up the Huskies’ defense, but that hasn’t happened yet. The offense, though, has picked up where it left off in 2010, when Northern Illinois averaged 38 points per game, 12th best in Division-I.
Narnish, a bruiser at 6-feet-2, 220 pounds, passed for 2,530 yards last season, complementing Northern Illinois’ outstanding rushing attack. He threw for 21 touchdowns and was intercepted only five times. His five touchdown passes against Army were to five different receivers.
This has been a game KU fans circled long ago as a potential indicator as to how far – if at all – the Jayhawks have come since last season’s 3-9 campaign. It was promising that Kansas rushed for 301 yards last week, even if it was against McNeese State. Sophomore James Sims looks like a legitimate Big 12 back and freshmen Tony Pierson and Darrian Miller give KU fans hope that there’s quality depth in the backfield.
Jordan Webb had to throw only 10 passes against McNeese, but completed seven – three for touchdowns. It’s possible his receiving corps, also filled with young players yet to establish themselves, could be as exciting as some of the running backs. Against McNeese State, freshman JaCorey Shepherd caught two touchdown passes.
KU-Northern Illinois could be a fun game. If the Jayhawks are as improved as Coach Turner Gill leads us to believe, they should be able to stay in this one against a really good offensive football team. This is a game that’s going to shed a lot of light on KU.