For a team that finished the 2010 season at 3-9 and went more than a month without a victory, all of this winning early stuff has the juices flowing.
Few people have felt the excitement like senior linebacker Steven Johnson, a former walk-on who led the team in tackles a year ago and felt every loss hit him like a ton of bricks.
“The more wins we get, the hungrier we get,” Johnson said.
If it’s hunger Johnson’s talking about, he’s eyeballing the near future like a Thanksgiving feast.
“I know last week I said that was the ‘Who Is Kansas’ game,” Johnson said of KU’s win against Northern Illinois. “And now, if we win this game (Saturday at Georgia Tech) and then we have a bye week, I’m just kind of adding it up. I got all the way to OU (Oct. 15), and I’m like, ‘Man, if we beat this team and we beat this team and get to OU and (ESPN’s) College Gameday’s here... I’m just getting a little bit excited. But, at the same time, I’m still focusing on Georgia Tech and not looking too far down the road. We approach these games as one-game seasons, and we’re just trying to win this game and go 1-0.”
The Jayhawks (2-0) and Yellow Jackets (2-0) will square off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta.
Wide receivers grounded
KU coach Turner Gill said Tuesday that senior Daymond Patterson and freshman JaCorey Shepherd would miss this week’s game at Georgia Tech because of injuries.
Patterson pulled a groin in the season opener and missed most of that game and all of last week. Shepherd, who starred in the opener in Patterson’s absence, played sparingly last week and appeared to be hampered throughout the game.
Gill said he did not believe Shepherd’s injury would keep him out long term.
John Williams, a junior defensive tackle, also will miss the game. Williams tore his ACL in the victory against Northern Illinois and will miss the rest of the season.
As for the other Jayhawks who were banged up last week — most notably senior center Jeremiah Hatch and junior linebacker Tunde Bakare — both are probable for GaTech.
Life on the road
Saturday’s matchup with Georgia Tech will be the first road game of the season for the Jayhawks, who enter the game as two-touchdown underdogs.
While a trip to Southern Miss in Week 3 last season proved to be an overwhelming experience for many of KU’s young players, Gill said he did not expect playing away from home to bother this year’s bunch.
“I’ve got a lot of guys back. And then also the staff,” Gill said. “How you handle things on the road, we try to emulate that in the preseason and do some things to get them ready for that, but it’s still not the same until you actually get out of your own environment and do something different. But I anticipate we’ll handle things a lot better just because we’ve got guys who have already done it.”
KU quarterback Jordan Webb made the first road start of his career at Southern Miss a year ago. He, too, said he was in much better position to handle the hostile conditions this year. Webb said the biggest challenge of playing on the road was dealing with the opposing crowd. Getting Webb and the offense ready for that is one of those things Gill has addressed this week.
“The crowd noise that we have during practice is louder than any crowd I’ve ever been in (front of),” Webb said. “(Preparing for that) really does help and it gets you prepared for the week.”
We want the ball
For the second week in a row, KU won the game’s opening coin toss and elected to receive.
The move is a departure from the approach the Jayhawks took throughout most of 2010, when, on the occasions that they won the toss, the Jayhawks usually deferred their choice to the second half.
Tuesday, Gill explained the change of heart.
“It’s probably a feel in a sense,” Gill said. “I’m more in the offensive mind-set, as far as my background, and I always kind of feel like you want the ball first. It’s a game-by-game thing, but I would say, in most cases, we’ll probably take the football.”