After losing their last two home games to TCU and Rice, Kansas (1-2) now looks to rebound and upset NIU and end its road losing streak on Saturday at Huskie Stadium in its final nonconference game this season. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. with the game televised on ESPN3. KU coach Charlie Weis will speak loud and clear to his players about the program’s road woes before the team heads to Dekalb, Ill.
“They will hear it several times this week,” Weis said. “That will be one of my main messages. It will be my vintage New Jersey sarcasm.”
The players will also hear a lot about the strengths of Northern Illinois (2-1), a team the Jayhawks beat last season, 45-42, before losing 10 straight games. NIU, which is coached by former KU assistant Dave Doeren, is coming off a 41-40 victory at Army last Saturday. NIU also beat UT Martin, 35-7, on Sept. 8, while losing its season opener to Iowa, 18-17.
NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch passed for a career-high 342 yards versus Army and four touchdowns, while rushing for 125 yards on 13 carries. Martel Moore also caught seven passes for 134 yards.
While the Huskies amassed 515 yards of total offense, they allowed 486 rushing yards on 86 carries and six touchdowns. Three Army players totaled more than 100 rushing yards. NIU’s rushing defense ranks just 112th nationally (229.3 yards per game), although its pass defense ranks seventh in the country, allowing just 140.0 yards per game.
Lynch is the do-it-all quarterback who ranks in the top 30 nationally in rushing, passing efficiency, total offense and scoring.
“He's a dangerous player,” Weis said. “First of all, he's a dynamic rusher. Anytime you're a dynamic rusher (at quarterback), it opens up the passing game, because everyone has to worry about stopping the quarterback as well as the running back.”
Weis is also concerned about NIU’s offensive formation.
“They shift in motion on almost every play,” Weis said. “You have to make sure that you get lined up right, or else they cause a lot of problems for you. And one of the things they do maybe 40 percent of the time, they end up in an unbalanced line and you have to make sure you don't miss a line and treat somebody the wrong way, or else you can get yourself in trouble.”
Defensively, the Huskies return three of their four defensive linemen and their entire secondary. They’re led by defensive back Jimmie Ward with 33 tackles, while linebacker Tyrone Clark has 31 stops, including 4.0 TFL’s for minus five yards.
The Jayhawks’ defense hopes to cause some turnovers, as they’ve done exceptionally well in their first three games. KU has forced 12 turnovers this season (seven fumble recoveries and five interceptions), leading the Big 12 in that category and tied for the NCAA lead with Alabama and Mississippi State. Offensively, KU will get a big boost with the return of James Sims, last season’s leading rusher who was suspended the first three games. Weis said he’s “very hungry” to get on the field.
“I think the most exciting thing is that he's seen those other two guys (Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox) play pretty well,” Weis said. “He knows for him to get snaps, he's going to have to earn them. A lot of times when a player leaves, he figures ‘Well, they need me.’ He's sitting in the stands those games watching those guys run the ball pretty well. And then he's starting to question, ‘I wonder if they need me?’ So, I think he's very hungry.”
Weis said Sims worked hard on the show team in practice competing against the No. 1 defense the entire time.
“I don’t expect there to be any rust,” Weis said.
Senior quarterback Dayne Crist is happy to see Sims back with the team.
“He was dying every day he was not out there,” Crist said. “Sims is a great guy and he has got my respect and the respect of the whole team. You know that he just wants to be there and compete.”
KU will certainly compete on Saturday and try to win a road game for the first time in three years. It won’t be easy with NIU’s winning ways at home.
“We’ve played well on the road of late, but we practice in Huskie Stadium every day,” Doeren said about his team’s success at home. “It’s so familiar to our guys. There are some things that happen, wind-wise, that are unique at times that our guys are able to handle maybe better than someone that hasn’t been in that environment. We’ve definitely for three seasons now taken advantage of understanding that we need to protect our home.”
Crist and the Jayhawks hope to end NIU’s home-winning streak while also erasing KU’s road-losing streak.
“It is something, obviously, that no one here is proud of,” Crist said of Kansas losing 13 consecutive road games. “Guys are hungry for a win.”