Archive for Friday, September 9, 2011

Homegrown talent makes NIU tough

September 9, 2011

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As uncertainty muddies Kansas University’s conference affiliation, fears grow the Jayhawks could end up in a league without strong ties to their most fertile recruiting ground, the state of Texas.

KU will continue to recruit Texas football players, regardless of its affiliation, but must expand its recruiting nets.

Turner Gill’s staff already has done so, taking advantage of Robert Wimberly’s strong ties in Florida and recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell’s in multiple areas.

Look for Kansas to do a better job in the state of Illinois in coming years thanks to Mitchell, who recruited for Michigan State and Illinois. KU’s Saturday opponent, Northern Illinois, proves that not all the Illinois talent gets gobbled up by Big Ten powers.

Northern Illinois, which visits Memorial Stadium as nearly a touchdown favorite, went 11-3 and won a bowl game last season.

Northern Illinois lists 106 players on its roster, including 46 from Illinois. Three of the four Illinois natives on KU’s roster are freshmen, including swift running back Tony Pierson.

Mining talent from Illinois is a wise strategy for KU, which can offer recruits the chance to play in a big-name conference, something the Huskies, who play in the Mid-American Conference, can’t.

Jerry Kill and his staff did such a fine job of recruiting and developing in-state talent for NIU that Kill was hired away by Minnesota. Replacing him is former Mark Mangino assistant coach Dave Doeren, who left KU for Wisconsin, where he worked his way to the defensive-coordinator position.

Despite Doeren’s background, stopping the Huskies presents KU with an even greater challenge than scoring on them.

NIU has won 10 of its last 11 games, and the 49 points it scored in last week’s rout of Army was only the fifth-highest point total during that stretch. Senior quarterback Chandler Harnish, from Blufton, Ind., threw for five touchdowns and ran for one against Army.

With experience comes the ability to read defenses and pick them apart. Harnish, a serious running threat as well, gives Northern Illinois the advantage against KU. He hit seven different receivers in the opener. He and tailback Jasmin Hopkins (138 rushing yards, 9.9 yards per carry) give NIU enough variety that the Mid-American school doesn’t have to rely on any one method to put defenses in retreat.

At this point, Kansas must stick to its run-first approach and hope that the Huskies are forced into loading the box to try to stop the run, so that JaCorey Shepherd and the other KU receivers can work against single coverage, get open, and hope quarterback Jordan Webb can find them in time.

No reason to believe Kansas can’t mount another strong rushing night, provided the play-callers don’t panic and abandon the run as soon as the Jayhawks fall behind.

Against McNeese State, Kansas rushed 55 times for 301 yards. Army ran it 63 times for 303 yards vs. NIU.

It shapes up as an interesting matchup, an experienced team picked to finish atop the small conference against an inexperienced one picked to finish at the bottom of a BCS league.

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