It was an up-and-down performance for the Jayhawks in Dekalb on Saturday, with the fourth quarter mostly representing the "down" side of the equation. Much like the Rice game, this is one we absolutely should have had, and it's disappointing to be heading into October with a 1-3 record. Especially since, in my opinion, we've already played the four easiest games on the schedule. The home game against Iowa State is the only one left that's even close, and I'm not sure the Cyclones aren't better than TCU. At any rate, this week's report card looks a lot like the ones I got used to writing up last year. Perhaps my disappointment at letting a precious road victory slip through our fingers in ugly fashion found its way into the grades this week, but I think it would be hard to give out many high marks after Saturday's performance.
Quarterback - F
If the OGT and postgame comments on RCT are any indication, I think it's safe to say the fanbase is over the Dayne Crist experiment. Crist averaged 5.65 yards per attempt, completing just 10 of his 26 passes. The receivers' issues getting open and occasional breakdowns in protection were still there, but Crist missed open receivers on several key plays down the stretch, on passes we would have expected even Webb or Mecham to have completed last year. Christian Matthews did a respectable job of running the offense out of the Jayhawk formation, but it wasn't enough to overcome Crist's continued struggles.
Running Back - B
While the statsheet says we only averaged 4 yards per carry, designed running plays averaged 5.4 yards a pop. James Sims showed us he's still James Sims, picking up 93 yards and scoring twice. Pierson went largely unnoticed (outside of a beautiful move after making a catch in the flat), which is disappointing, and Cox went out early with a leg injury. It's hard to fault the RBs for the offense falling apart late, as NIU started doing what all our opponents have done, and played close to the line, daring Crist to put the team on his back.
Receivers/Tight Ends - D
It's hard to rate this group, as they were largely nonexistent. Crist still frequently finds himself with no open receivers, but had Pick wide open on what would have been a game-changing TD pass late. Ragone also would have had a key fourth quarter catch if not for a poorly thrown ball. Still, the receivers are a weakness on this team and aren't helping the issues with our passing game. One silver lining was the continued emergence of Andrew Turzilli, who appears to be our lone threat to stretch the field. He didn't haul in any deep passes like he did against TCU, but did manage over a third of the teams receptions with four.
Offensive Line - D+
This was brought up in the OGT, and I'll reiterate my thoughts here. At times, our line does a fantastic job of pass protection. At others, especially in third down and passing situations, the pocket seems to fall apart and Crist has no time. I think our line is solid enough to handle a basic four man rush when the opponent is running their base scheme, but they aren't good enough to handle the stunts and blitzes they bring when they're expecting the pass. Our receivers aren't dangerous enough to warrant extra DBs in those situations, so opposing teams are keying in on getting to Crist. Our tackles continue to concern me in pass protection as well. This is two straight weeks where DEs have blown our tackles away off the edge at times. This was also the first game where I've noticed the inexperience of the right side of our line hurting us. Dent was especially subpar, and I noticed several plays where other linemen were getting on him about missed blocks or assignments. This is a bad sign given the quality of some of the D-lines in the Big 12.
Defensive Line - C-
The defensive line combined for 10 tackles, significantly lower that what they had been racking up early this season. We also had 0 QB hurries as a team, due in part to the fact the Jordan Lynch would take off running rather than stay in the pocket and be hurried. Over the first three games, we got used to seeing this group making plays, but it just didn't happen Saturday. Part of that is probably due to the tinkering Dave Campo has done with the scheming, officially naming Opurum a standup linebacker, and only using one true defensive end in Josh Williams. With this setup, the d-line's role may just be more to occupy blockers. Either way, this group didn't make much of a splash, and NIU was too successful offensively to give them high marks.
Linebackers - C-
I'd like to grade the linebackers higher, given that Ben Heeney and Anthony McDonald combined for 23 tackles in Huldon Tharp's absence. However, they took too many bad angles on Lynch, and were generally poor in coverage. This group strikes me as more of a Mangino-style linebacking crew. They're big and tough, they like to hit, and they're good at stopping the run between the tackles. Their speed and agility just aren't great, which can make them a poor fit for spread offenses with fast quarterbacks.
Secondary - C-
For once, I'm not going to tear the secondary apart. Patmon's pick 6 was fantastic, though basically negated by the 65 yard touchdown they allowed on the next play. However, without that 65 yard play, we gave up just 5 yards per pass attempt Saturday, which would be by far our best number of the season in that category. The starting DBs racked up 32 tackles, which is probably too many and due to a lack of speed in the linebacking corps, but at least the secondary continues to tackle well. I didn't see the wide open receivers all over the field that we have at times, and while here and there it looked like NIU was going to start dinking-and-dunking us to death, it never really materialized. Decent job by the defensive backs this week.
Special Teams - F
Wow, we're bad at this. Whether it's a hold on an extra point, Doherty missing the extended PAT, a kickoff out of bounds, allowing a 35 yard return, inability to get kickoffs to the goal line...you name the special teams problem, we have it. We can usually at least count on Doherty to give us solid punts, but that didn't even happen Saturday. Outside a 56 yarder that NIU allowed to bounce into the endzone for a touchback, he averaged just 37.3 yards per punt. That's not net punting, either. Tre Parmalee did get his first three kick returns of his career and averaged 25 yards, so I guess that's a plus, but aside from that there were no bright spots in this area.
Overall - D+
While this Northern Illinois team is unlikely to post a third consecutive season with double-digit wins, they aren't a bad football team. That said, the loss itself isn't the reason for the disappointment surrounding this game. The reason this is so deflating is that it's the second game of the year that should have been a win. We should be 3-1 right now. After Patmon put us up by two scores with his pick 6, the sequence of following plays was: penalty on extra point, missed PAT, kickoff out of bounds, 65 yard TD pass. You can't write up a collapse any better than that. As cliche as it may sound, I really don't believe this team knows how to win. Or, perhaps a better way to say it is they don't believe in their ability to win. Unfortunately, the only way to turn that around is to get them used to actually winning these games, and I think we can all agree that the remaining schedule can't be trusted to provide them with any more good opportunities.