Of the 325 passing yards the Kansas University defense gave up to McNeese State last week, nearly half came on screen plays.
Not to worry, says KU defensive coordinator Vic Shealy, who vowed earlier this week to give his secondary a lesson on screens they wouldn’t soon forget in preparation for today’s 6 p.m. matchup with Northern Illinois.
“It’s easy to be self-critical anyway because you want to be perfect,” Shealy said. “But I think the nature of it is, we opened up the exposure that, if we don’t get better in the screen game in a hurry, that’s something that will be a problem.”
Ask the Jayhawks what went wrong, and they’ll tell you that they lined up wrong here or misread a key there, and that allowed the McNeese quarterbacks to take advantage. Fortunately for them, head coach Turner Gill agreed and said most of the mistakes were correctable.
“I don’t think they lost focus,” Gill said. “They had the passion, and they were into the game. (It was) just more about execution. I think a lot of it had to do with it being the first game. They played hard. They played fast, so effort and focus was not an issue. We just need to improve in those areas because (Northern Illinois) can expose you if you don’t get those things corrected.”
In some ways, the criticism the KU pass defense took after last week came by default. Things went so well in so many other areas that picking on the pass defense was easy. Shealy didn’t mind.
“I think the burden to play good pass defense is always there,” he said. “I don’t know that you feel any more pressure from one week to the other because, I tell ya, every week you gotta be great.”
With a subpar performance fresh in their minds, the desire to be great is enhanced this week even if the pressure is not. The way KU’s secondary will go about reaching that goal comes off the field first. And that means getting a good look at Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, the four-year starter and MAC Player of the Year in 2010.
“It’s just studying film,” sophomore CB Tyler Patmon said. “He’s gonna know everything we’re doing, so it’s pretty much just using the right technique, the right alignment and doing the right assignments.”
Asked if he was looking forward to facing such a talented QB after a down week, Patmon smiled.
“We’re not scared of anybody,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for that dude. He’s a great quarterback. He showed it last year, and it’s a great challenge for us. We’re looking forward to it.”
At least on film, Northern Illinois is not a team that utilizes the screen pass often. Then again, neither was McNeese State. Although a good chunk of this week’s preparation was spent rehashing the keys to stopping the screen, Shealy said the Jayhawks would not abandon their ultimate goal.
“If you ask me as a coordinator now, and not a secondary coach, if people can’t run the football against you, then you’ve got a better chance to win than if they can’t throw it, but they can run it,” Shealy said. “That may not sound like what people want to hear, and you want to be great on both, but you can’t let people run the football on you.”
Several Jayhawks admitted that they were eager to face a dynamic offense and make up for last week’s slow start.
“We gave up a lot of passing yards,” Brown said. “But I have a lot of confidence in our secondary and our scheme so I believe we can go out there and prove our doubters wrong.”