Kansas coach Turner Gill talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 45-42 victory over Northern Illinois on Sept. 10, 2011.
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Players and coaches in the Kansas University football program are not allowed to answer this upcoming question. For the hundreds of thousands of the rest of you who follow KU football, a show of hands please: Who thought Jordan Webb ever would look as good at quarterback as he looked in directing his school to a 45-42 upset victory Saturday night against Northern Illinois at Memorial Stadium?
If your armpits are exposed, you’re a liar.
It was a proud night for Webb and his tutor, Chuck Long, one of the greatest college quarterbacks of his generation, a Heisman Trophy runner-up to Bo Jackson while playing for Iowa.
Webb doesn’t match the prototype of a BCS quarterback. He’s not tall enough to see all the receivers all the time, and he’s not fast enough to pile up big rushing numbers. To succeed for Kansas, Webb was going to have to make the most of a strong arm and a football brain eager to absorb whatever Long could teach him.
“Very proud of Jordan Webb tonight,” said Long, who dialed up the right play at the right time all night long. “Very proud. One of the greatest efforts I’ve been around. The young man’s growing. He’s growing.”
Not vertically, of course. He’s still listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds. In every other way, he has grown from the red-shirt freshman of a year ago who didn’t look very accurate. In every interview during spring football and fall camp, Webb said he thought he had become a more accurate passer as a result of grasping the offense better. He put those words into action Saturday.
Webb made several throws on the run, hit eight different receivers, didn’t throw an interception. Thanks to a couple of drops, Webb’s numbers, though exceptional, don’t quite reveal just how accurately he zipped the ball into tight spots. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns.
“Jordan was really sharp all night,” Long said. “He was on point. I just don’t recall any misreads at all on his part. The young man is growing, he really is. It’s right before your eyes, and it’s nice to see that.”
On a made-for-football night that recalled the basketball games Paul Westhead coached at Loyola Marymount, both offenses made scoring look too easy. Northern Illinois senior Chandler Harnish felt little pressure from the locked-up KU D-line and had little trouble hitting receivers who found large openings in the Jayhawks’ defense. No surprise there. Harnish long ago proved his elite status as a college quarterback.
Webb’s progression had to take the Huskies, favored by nearly a touchdown, by surprise, especially since the Kansas coaches only asked him to throw 10 times in the season-opening victory against McNeese State.
Kansas wisely still put the emphasis on running the ball and got another terrific night from the offensive line and the talented pack of young running backs, but when throwing downs arrived, Webb embraced the challenge.
“Third and long was exceptional tonight,” Long said. “I think we were 13-of-18 (correct) or something crazy like that. That is a quarterback down, and he made the most of it.”
On the game-winning play, Webb moved right to side-step mounting pressure and zipped a perfect strike to D.J. Beshears, a scoring strike with nine seconds left. Beshears was Webb’s third read on the play.
“That shows you how well Jordan’s come along,” receiver Kale Pick said. “I was the first read, and I saw a bunch of guys coming out on my flat route, and I turned around and saw D.J. had the ball. For a kid like Jordan to go through three different reads in that amount of time with that much pressure, that just shows you there on that single play how much he’s come along.”
The second read?
“Chris Omigie on the corner route,” said Pick, beaten out by Webb at quarterback the second game of the season a year ago. “A bunch of the defense flowed out our way, and Jordan made his third read and he made the throw. ... Chris was covered, and Jordan made a third read and put it right in there in D.J.’s chest.”
Panic didn’t enter the equation all night for Webb.
“Because of his poise and the way he was unflappable, it permeated through our offense,” Long said. “He wasn’t showing that last year. He got too excited at times. He was more calm. He let bad plays kind of linger last year. You’ve got to be able to move onto the next play. He’s showing that right now.”
Not that he made many bad plays he needed to overcome.
“It was definitely fun out there,” Webb said. “My receivers made some great plays. My O-line gave me great protection. It was definitely fun seeing it all come together.”
So fun that all the students who watched Kansas rally from a 21-7 deficit to tie it 21-21 at the half stayed seated to watch a wild finish. Look for the students to stick around all year. This young team has holes — massive ones on defense — but one thing it can’t ever be accused of is playing a boring style of football.