LAWRENCE — Kansas coach Charlie Weis said Sunday that his Jayhawks should be closer to full health this week as they prepare for their first road tests Saturday at Northern Illinois. The Jayhawks played without senior receiver Kale Pick and senior safety Lubbock Smith in their 20-6 loss to TCU on Saturday.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Reserve running back Brandon Bourbon, who was limited for part of last week, also didn’t log any snaps, while linebacker Huldon Tharp was banged up during the game and saw much of his playing time go to senior Anthony McDonald.
Weis said there was a collection of players deemed as “questionable” for Northern Illinois, but none fell into the “doubtful” or “out” categories. Weis added that Pick took part in some special drills on Sunday for the players that didn’t play much or at all on Saturday.
“He looked like if we played (Sunday), he’d have been a lot closer to 100 percent,” Weis said. “I’ll see where we are on Tuesday, but looking at him today, he didn’t look as sore as he did a couple days ago.”
Defense leading nation in takeaways
After the dust cleared on Saturday, the Jayhawks were left tied for first in the nation in turnovers forced with 12 over three games. Alabama and Mississippi State have also produced 12 takeaways. The Jayhawks forced four turnovers against TCU, including three inside the red zone.
“Every defense in the country works on stripping the ball and things,” Weis said. “But when the ball starts coming up and good things end up happening, usually more people want a part of the action.”
The Jayhawks are still just 91st in total defense while allowing 433.7 yards per game. Those are some baby-step improvements from last season. But they’re now tied for 44th in the most important defensive number — points per game. In three games, KU has allowed 20.7 points per game, a number that might be 10 points higher without the deluge of takeaways.
Of course, Weis did point out that it’s unusual for a team to win the turnover battle 4-2 — as the Jayhawks did against TCU — and still lose by two touchdowns. Some of that may be a reflection of the KU offense. But some of it may have just been the specific circumstances on Saturday, when most of KU’s takeaways prevented touchdowns and left the offense deep in its own territory.
** Expect receiver Andrew Turzilli to continue to get more reps this week against Northern Illinois. Turzilli, starting in place of Pick, finished with three catches for 100 yards against TCU. Turzilli also had at least one key drop, but Weis said Sunday that he liked the strides Turzilli and Chris Omigie made on Saturday.
Turzilli and Omigie can both stretch defenses with their size — something KU has lacked this year — and while Weis said that size can provide a comfort level for a quarterback, the most important thing is just getting open. The KU receivers have struggled to get separation from defenders this season; Turzilli and Omigie showed flashes against TCU.
** Northern Illinois is an early 10-point favorite over KU this weekend. One reason: The Huskies have won 16-straight at home.