Upset NIU? You bet

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Upsets happen when a football team feels disrespected. They happen when an underdog realizes what it does well and has the confidence to do it repeatedly, stubbornly believing it will work.

No reason Kansas University should not pull off the upset Saturday in DeKalb, Ill., against a Northern Illinois squad favored by 10 points. A Mid-American Conference team isn’t supposed to be favored by a touchdown and field goal against a Big 12 squad, but that’s where the betting line opened, the oddsmakers not-so gently slapping the Jayhawks across the face.

The Huskies, coached by former Mark Mangino assistant Dave Doeren, whose desire for the KU job after Turner Gill’s firing was unrequited, are coming off a 41-40 victory against Army in West Point, N.Y.

Army pretty much blows off the forward pass, attempting just three against NIU. The Black Knights, pummeled 42-7 by San Diego State in the opening week of the season, didn’t need the forward pass to score six touchdowns. The Northern Illinois defense allowed 486 rushing yards in that one.

In leading Iowa to a Week 1, 18-17 victory against Northern Illinois, Damon Bullock rushed for 150 yards.

The KU offensive line has the strength to get the better of the NIU defense and consistently open rushing lanes for big-play back Tony Pierson, relentless Taylor Cox and returning James Sims, the team’s leading rusher the past two seasons.

Running the football is what Kansas does best offensively, and creating turnovers is the strength of the defense. KU, Alabama and Mississippi State all have a national-best 12 turnovers gained. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are a combined 6-0. KU is 1-2 because its offense hasn’t clicked, particularly in the red zone.

Look for that to change Saturday and look for never-shy Charlie Weis to throw some different twists into the running game. He calls his Wildcat offense the Jayhawk, for obvious reasons, and hasn’t shown much of it yet. Nobody should be surprised if Pierson and Sims take direct snaps now and then, with quarterback Dayne Crist watching some plays from the sideline.

Army dared Northern Illinois to stop the run, and Kansas can do the same. The difference: KU can build toward a play-action pass home run or two with Crist finding Daymond Patterson or Andrew Turzilli open down the field.

The Huskies’ rush defense ranks 115th out of 124 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, allowing 229.3 yards per game.

Pounding Cox, Sims and Pierson all day also keeps NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch off the field. Lynch ranks 19th in the nation with 304.7 yards in total offense, a third of it coming on the ground, the rest through the air.

The Huskies make for a tough opponent, but there is no reason to believe Kansas can’t be tougher.