Gameday 2012: Kansas vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 22

KANSAS (1-2)

At A Glance:

Northern Illinois is returning virtually its entire defense from last year’s team that lost 45-42 in Lawrence. The Jayhawks were able to establish an effective ground game in that matchup, rushing for 295 yards and three touchdowns against the Huskies. Kansas will no doubt try to replicate its run success this week at NIU.

Offense:

The return of James Sims is upon Jayhawk nation. Last year’s leading rusher for Kansas missed the first three games with a DUI suspension, but there isn’t a better opponent for Sims to make his 2012 debut against. When the Huskies visited Lawrence in 2011, Sims ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns — his best game of the season. Kansas already has two solid hundred-yard backs in Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox, but adding Sims into the mix will be a welcomed challenge for the Kansas coaching staff.

Defense:

Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren called the Jayhawk’s defensive coordinator, Dave Campo, the best secondary coach in football, both college and pro. With a nation leading 12 turnovers, it’s not hard to see why. Kansas had only 18 turnovers in 2011. At this rate the Jayhawks could eclipse that mark in two more games. While Kansas still has trouble holding its opponents to shorter drives, the bend-don’t-break mentality has kept the Jayhawks very much alive in their last two games.

Special Teams:

Sims is not the only Jayhawk returning from a three-game suspension this week. Long snapper Justin Carnes will also suit up for Kansas for the first time this season, but that doesn’t mean he’ll start right away. Kansas coach Charlie Weis said Carnes will have to outwork Reilly Jeffers in practice to secure his spot back. It was Jeffers who took over snapping duties in Carnes absence.

Player To Watch:

Tony Pierson got a shot at making some receptions for the Jayhawks against TCU and ended up with 99 yards in the passing game. With Sims returning to the backfield, it might not be the last time Pierson is open downfield. Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell said that Pierson is still looking at 15 carries a game even with the three back rotation, but that didn’t include catches. Motioning Pierson out of the backfield can only add to Weis’ decisive schematic advantage.

Coaching:

With film from last year and NIU returning an identical defense from 2011, coach Charlie Weis should have a good base for a deadly offensive scheme. Without question the run game pulled out a victory for Kansas, but that was in part because of a non-threatening passing game. If Kansas can establish its run game again, more options will open up in the air. On the defensive side, Dave Campo will look to tighten up the tackling, which has been an issue for Kansas throughout its last two games.

Momentum:

Coach Weis doesn’t believe in moral victories, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some positives to come out of Kansas loss to TCU. The defense forced three turnovers and was able to slow down the Horned Frogs in the red zone. Keeping games close may be the biggest proving ground for the Jayhawks this season.

Question Marks:

How will James Sims adjust to the Charlie Weis offense? The Kansas coaches have said that Sims lost weight and looks faster, but will it translate to production? Sims hasn’t been in a game this year; will he need time to get back into game mode? And how will Weis use his three back rotation? Weis is known as a pass-happy coordinator with an affection for quarterbacks. Will the pass game die down in wake of a stronger backfield?

Baby Jay Will Cheer If…

Kansas wins. With this team, in this game, it’s that simple. The Jayhawks haven’t won a road game in thirteen tries dating back to 2009, and NIU presents a challenge the Jayhawks have been able to overcome in the past. The turnovers and hundred-yard rushing games mean little without a victory to accompany them.

By The Numbers:

531 — Total points Kansas has allowed on its current 13 road game losing streak

281 — Yards Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb passed for against NIU last season.

 

NORTHERN ILLINOIS (2-1)

Baby Jay Will Weep If…

Northern Illinois successfully stops the run. Army rushed for 486 yards last week and scored a half-dozen touchdowns on the ground. The Huskies must come up with a game plan to stop the rushing attack Kansas will bring in, especially with junior running back James Sims returning for the Jayhawks.

Question Marks:

Can Northern Illinois stop the Jayhawks ground attack?
Sophomore running back Tony Pierson and junior running back Taylor Cox have highlighted the biggest strength Kansas has. With the rushing game being held to high standards, Northern Illinois needs senior defensive ends Alan Baxter and Sean Progar to step up at the defensive line. Co-defensive coordinators Jay Niemann and Ryan Nielson need to implement a game plan for the Huskies defense to limit the Jayhawks on the ground in order to give them a good chance to win.

Coaching:

Dave Doeren is in his first season as the coach of Northern Illinois. Doeren has coached football at the college level for 17 years. As an assistant coach of five different programs prior to joining Northern Illinois, he helped coach his teams to eight bowl games and two national championships. Doeren was the linebackers coach under former Kansas coach Mark Mangino.

Momentum:

Dating back to October 3rd, 2009, Northern Illinois has won 16 consecutive home games. With Kansas currently riding a 16-road game losing streak, including games played at neutral locations, the fans at Huskie Stadium could play a role in helping the home team win. Bu of course, Doeren has to coach his team to be ready and will use the winning streak at home as motivation.

At A Glance:

Northern Illinois has been up and down so far this season. In the three games they have played, the amount of points scored and given up varied from each game. The Huskies is not something Doeren outlined when taking over in his first season as the coach of the Huskies. A win over a Big 12 team would motivate Northern Illinois and give them some bragging rights in the Mid-American Conference.

Player To Watch:
#1 WR Martel Moore

Senior wide receiver Martel Moore is doing what he can to impress scouts before his time at Northern Illinois is over. Moore’s receptions, yards and touchdowns have gone up each game. Moore elevated Northern Illinois over Army in their 41-40 win when he snagged seven receptions for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Numbers:

-6 bowl appearances since 2000

-18 returning starters for Northern Illinois.

Special Teams:

Sophomore Tommylee Lewis takes care of the kick return duties and senior Perez Ashford handles the punt return duties. Neither team has shined nor made an impact in the return game so far this season. Junior kicker Mathew Sims has made one kick out of two attempts so far this season. The biggest unknown would be whether or not Doeren is comfortable in Sims’ ability to make long-range field goals. In Sims’ career, he has made 70 percent of his field goals with his longest being a 44-yarder in two different games.

STARTING LINEUP

Offense:

Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch has a big responsibility for Northern Illinois against a Kansas defense that is tied for first in the nation in takeaways. He flourished last week against Army when he threw four touchdown passes, finding three different receivers in the end zone in a high-scoring match. Lynch also led the team in rushing yards with 125 yards from 13 carries with a touchdown on the ground. With 68 percent of the passes and rushes from Lynch last week, Northern Illinois offense will need to rally around him against Kansas.

Defense:

The 4-3 base defense that Northern Illinois runs has a lot of room to grow. The Huskies conceded 846 rushing yards this season in just three games. Doeren, a former defensive assistant before joining Northern Illinois, has preached to his defense all week that they need to stop the run. Pierson, Sims and Cox are capable of breaking through the defense and finding the end zone if the Huskies give them a lane to follow. The Huskies have only one game where they have caused turnovers and hope they can give senior quarterback Dayne Crist some problems to get more takeaways.

 

PREDICTION: 35-24 Northern Illinois

Blake is a senior from Chicago, Ill., studying journalism on the news and information track. Read more from .

  • Updated Sep. 19, 2012 at 5:39 pm