Kansas, eager to start the season on a positive note after last year's opening-game debacle, did exactly that Saturday night with a 42-24 victory over FCS opponent McNeese State. Kansas passed just ten times and rushed for over 300 yards en route to a score more befitting a victory over a lower-level opponent.
After a 3-and-out opening drive that had many thinking "here we go again," the Jayhawks punted and stopped the Cowboys around midfield. On the first play of the next drive, James Sims broke off a 30 yard run, and set the offensive tone for the rest of the night. On the back of the running game, Kansas was up 21-3 at halftime, though the defense had allowed McNeese to complete 17 of 19 pass attempts and generally control the time of possession battle.
The second half featured much of the same for the improved Kansas rushing attack, and also featured two long TD passes from Jordan Webb to true freshman Jacorey Shepherd. McNeese State was able to continue abusing the Kansas pass defense, and unlike the first half, they were scoring points, cashing in two touchdowns in the third quarter. Their success level through the air dropped off some in the final quarter, and in they end they simply were not able to keep up with the Jayhawks on the scoreboard.
The offense showed marked improvement from last year's unit, which was among the worst in BCS football, and freshmen Tony Pierson, Darrian Miller, and Jacorey Shepherd showed that there is plenty to get excited about each time KU gets possession of the ball. Defensively, the story was quite different. The corners continue to play far off the line of scrimmage, and as a result gave up short easy passes any time McNeese State wanted them. The corners still struggle playing the ball in the air, and inexperienced safeties Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald both struggled in providing help over the top on deep pass plays. The defensive line provided little push, and were not able to sufficiently tie up blockers, as blitzing linebackers were routinely met by o-linemen free to pick them up without much difficulty. The linebackers did provide a defensive bright spot however, as Steven Johnson racked up a team-high 15 tackles, and Toben Opurum was consistently disruptive, notching 3.5 tackles for loss.
Overall, this was a pleasant way to begin the season for Kansas, especially given last year's start. Despite the concerns about the pass defense, the run defense was solid, and the offense was, at times, electrifying. College football season is back, and this time, Kansas fans have some reasons to be excited.