Kansas coach Turner Gill talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 45-42 victory over Northern Illinois on Sept. 10, 2011.
Kansas University linebacker Steven Johnson’s first stop in the locker room was to find teammates Jordan Webb and D.J. Beshears, who combined on the Jayhawks’ game-winning touchdown Saturday.
He wanted to thank them personally following KU’s 45-42 victory over Northern Illinois.
“(The offense) had our back,” Johnson said. “I just give all the praise to them.”
The Jayhawks’ defense did little to slow down Northern Illinois’ offense — and especially quarterback Chandler Harnish.
The senior completed 27 of 33 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns; he also rushed 11 times for 89 yards and a career-high three scores.
“I’m really happy that we won, but at the same time, I’ve got an ‘uh’ feeling,” Johnson said, “because I know there are some things on the field that — not only myself, but as a defense — we need to correct.”
The issues were numerous.
KU defensive coordinator Vic Shealy said his players’ set recognition and communication were poor, which led to breakdowns.
Also, on NIU’s longest pass of the night, KU cornerback Tyler Patmon stopped when he heard a whistle and was beaten on the play.
“There’s no excuses,” Shealy said. “We’ve got to keep on coaching them. I’m disappointed.”
The Jayhawks also weren’t playing at full strength.
Shealy said Patmon was playing despite a pulled groin and hadn’t participated fully in practice this week. Nose tackle John Williams left Saturday’s game because of a leg injury, and linebacker Tunde Bakare also was injured in the first half and didn’t return after taking a hit to the head.
Bakare said afterward he’d be fine for next week.
“We had some things happen that are hard to explain right now that are not the sign of a great defense,” Shealy said, “but we’ll get some of those things corrected.”
Johnson said part of the problem was NIU’s game plan. Against Army last week, the Huskies had run some exotic formations, such as having two fullbacks and one running back in the shotgun formation.
“We were focused on that,” Johnson said, “and they came out with something totally different.”
On Saturday, NIU’s sets were more standard, with two or three wide receivers and one running back.
KU also had issues in the secondary for the second straight week.
Shealy said because KU’s dime package — with six defensive backs — was ineffective early on, he was hesitant to use it late. That limited KU’s ability to blitz from different positions.
Harnish also slowed down KU’s blitzes, as any added pressure could potentially leave a crease where the QB could scramble to pick up big yardage.
“There’s progress that has been made,” Shealy said, “but again, the margin of error was so much thinner tonight (with Harnish) that it didn’t show.”
KU’s cornerbacks were once again challenged on the edges, with NIU picking up much of its passing yardage on bubble screens in front of cornerbacks.
“We did have a lot of cushion, but we’ve just got to compete,” Johnson said. “It just comes down to competing. Sometimes those guys are wide open, and we were over top of them. You’ve just got to be able to compete and come up and make a play.”
KU cornerback Greg Brown said KU’s defenders needed to be more aggressive.
“We were close to the ball, but we just didn’t make our plays,” Brown said. “You’ve got to fight through the arms and play the ball better at its highest point.”
Johnson wasn’t the only KU defender that was appreciative of his team’s offense.
Following NIU’s final incompletion, KU linebacker Darius Willis ran up to Webb on the field.
He gave him a big hug.
“At times in the game,” Willis said, “they carried us.”