Kansas has a great opportunity to build some momentum entering the Big 12 slate of its schedule, as it hits the road to take on Northern Illinois. In my opinion, this is the biggest game of the season for the Jayhawks.
With that, here are some quick things Kansas must do to win this game. Some are obvious, some are... well maybe less obvious?
Get Both Pierson And The Offensive Lineman Out In Space
Yeah we know, Pierson is explosive and can make some big plays. The staff needs to keep getting him screens. However, I'll take that a step further and add it is important for us to get our offensive lineman to the next level as well.
Several times this season, Kansas' guards have shown the quickness to get to the next level and pick up a linebacker or safety - and the results have always been huge for the Jayhawks. We have also had success pulling guards and running counter plays. Getting our playmakers the ball in space is one thing, but giving them a convoy makes them even more dangerous. Hopefully the staff continues to work on ways to create some blocking mismatches.
Throw The Ball Down The Field
This one might have a few of you scratching your heads, as most are critical after Kansas abandoned its effective run game early in the second half against TCU and let Dayne Crist and co do their best imitation of the Green Bay Packers' offense. However, I do not want the staff to abandon the downfield pass. For starters, we need to keep the safeties out of the box for the running game to be effective. Also, at some point, we will need some big plays in the passing game. Dinking and dunking with the run game and short passes moved the ball against TCU... yet we failed to score a touchdown. At some point, we are going to have to hit on a few long balls that go for scores or get us close. Crist's accuracy and touch on his deep ball was better last week. If he keeps improving, the staff can't give up on taking shots downfield.
Use Some Wildcat Looks
We haven't seen the Wildcat formation since a double-reverse-pass trick play went horrible wrong on the Jayhawks' first drive against Rice. However, NIU is the perfect opponent to run this formation against. The team has struggled with the option game so far this year, and the Jayhawks are not going to be running any option with Crist.
I think mixing in at least 6-10 Wildcat snaps will keep the NIU defense on its toes, and could lead to one of our running backs breaking off a long run. It also gives Weis an opportunity to calm Crist down if he is off early.
Play The Safeties Deep
Keeping our safeties back may have let TCU eat up the Jayhawks via short passes and runs, however Kansas' bend-but-don't-break mentality paid off a great amount, as the Horned Frogs turned the ball over continuously when it sniffed pay dirt. I think KU needs to do something similar this week, and force NIU to finish drives. I'm not saying the team should abandon any and all blitzes and tight man coverage, but the Jayhawks pass rush has improved this year. If our DLine can get pressure early, the team should drop its safeties back and hope a sack or interception is the result from the pressure.
Not Try A Field Goal Over 38 Yards
I am getting tired of the staff's refusal to acknowledge that Ron Doherty simply cannot make anything last a chip shot. Kansas would be much better off going for it on fourth down, simply because there is some chance they convert it. So far this season, Doherty has proven that the chance of him hitting anything that isn't a gimme is 0%.
Fix The Kickoff Problems
Let's start with returns. Hopefully the staff has realized that the blocking on kick returns is bad, so here is a solution - if the ball is in the end zone, TAKE A KNEE EVERY TIME. If someone doesn't do this, they don't play. That was easy.
When KU kicks off, some creativity may be needed. It appears that the team doesn't have anyone who can boot it through the end zone, so Kansas needs to mix it up. A squib kick, pop fly, directional kick, anything that decreases the chance of a long return. I'd rather see NIU start from their own 30 than watch them break one and take it to the house.
If Kansas continues to lose the field position battle, they aren't going to be in a lot of games this year. It is time for the staff to address this.
Well there you have it. Big game tomorrow, and I'm excited to see how the team responds to last week's not-as-close-as-the-score-indicated-yet-we-fumbled-one-the-one-yard-line-with-two-minutes-left-and-that-would-have-made-it-a-one-touchdown-game experience.