When Kansas has the ball
Kansas rush offense vs. Northern Illinois rush defense
So far this season, the Jayhawks have rushed for 526 yards and four touchdowns. Lead backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox have averaged 5.8 yards per carry. The offensive line is doing a great job of giving these guys lanes to run through, and they’ve done the rest. This week, the Jayhawks will get James Sims back from suspension, and all he did was lead the team in rushing as a true freshman and a sophomore. On top of that, KU will be facing a Northern Illinois team that gave up 486 yards rushing on 86 carries to Army last week. Sure, a lot of people give up those kinds of numbers to Army’s triple-option attack, but there’s no reason to think that Kansas can’t keep its strong ground game chugging along against the Huskies. Edge: Kansas.
Kansas pass offense vs. Northern Illinois pass defense
KU quarterback Dayne Crist threw for 300 yards last week, but it took him 39 attempts to get there, and, after completing nine of 12 first-half passes, he connected on just 10 of 27 passes in the second half. KU’s double-digit deficit dictated a lot of that and made the Jayhawks more one-dimensional. As long as they don’t get behind big in this one, Crist should take another step forward, thanks largely to the fact that NIU will have to respect KU’s rushing attack and won’t be able to stack its defense to stop the pass. KU sophomore Andrew Turzilli showed up big-time last week with a 100-yard game in his first start, but he, Crist and the rest of KU’s receivers will be in for a stiff challenge this week against an NIU secondary that returns all four starters from its 2011 team. Edge: Push.
When Northern Illinois has the ball
Northern Illinois rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense
The Jayhawks actually have been pretty solid against the run through three games. Although KU has given up 523 yards and 4.7 yards per carry, 99 of those yards came on one play in the season opener. Since then, KU has looked tougher and faster against the run. In last week’s loss to TCU, the KU defense gave up 152 yards, but dropped the yards-per-carry total to 4.0 and did not give up a rushing touchdown. NIU’s running backs have good speed, skills and experience, but it’s NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch who seems to scare the Jayhawks the most. Through three games, the junior QB has run for 304 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 101.3 yards per game and 7.2 yards per carry. What makes Lynch so dangerous is that many of those yards came out of called passing plays, where he was able to pick up positive yardage despite being flushed from the pocket or having nowhere to go with the football. Edge: Northern Illinois.
Northern Illinois pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense
Lynch has been pretty efficient in the passing game, partly because opposing defenses have been so focused on taking away his ability to run that he’s been able to hit for huge chunks of yardage on deep passes in each game. KU coach Charlie Weis said preparing for Lynch was a classic “pick your poison” scenario. Lynch has completed 63 percent of his passes and thrown five TDs compared with just two interceptions. Despite being a first-year starter, he has been smart with the ball and rarely seems to try to do too much, especially when it comes to throwing downfield. Martel Moore has been Lynch’s favorite target thus far, and he leads the Huskies with 229 yards and three touchdowns on 15 receptions. KU’s secondary has given up more yards than it would like, but that has been offset by KU’s ability to get turnovers. The Jayhawks lead the nation in takeaways, with 12, and five of those have been interceptions, with four players picking off passes through three games. Edge: Push.
KU has had its trouble in the kicking game, both with kickoffs and field goals. The return of suspended long snapper Justin Carnes may help shore up the place kicking, but that has just been part of the problem for the KU special teams. Despite having experienced and talented return men, the Jayhawks have struggled mightily in the kick-return game, prompting Weis to move true freshman Tre’ Parmalee to first-team kickoff returner to see if he can provide the Jayhawks a lift. KU has made plays on special teams, and junior Ron Doherty continues to punt with great effectiveness. Northern Illinois has been less stellar in its punting but untested in its place kicking, attempting just two field goals through three games. Edge: Push