LAWRENCE — It's not time to start clearing trophy space at Kansas, but the Jayhawks get a State Fair blue ribbon for their offensive display Saturday night.
Remember when this team couldn't score? Like last season?
Well, KU ran up 45 in beating Northern Illinois by three points at Memorial Stadium. Of course, to make their fans as jittery as possible, the Jayhawks waited until the final seconds of the game to pull off the win. A six-yard pass from Jordan Webb to D.J. Beshears did the trick as Webb, superb all night, checked off a couple of receivers he had in mind and found the 5-foot-8 Beshears, who caught Webb's low throw and was able — barely — to get the ball into the end zone.
Kansas fans hadn't had this much fun in who knows how long. Yes, the Jayhawks beat Georgia Tech here in the second game of the 2010 season, but that was after a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State in the opener and most KU fans recognized it was going to be a difficult season.
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While the Georgia Tech win might have been a fluke, there are legitimate reasons to think this Kansas team is a candidate to over-achieve.
Yes, there are myriad issues remaining. KU's defense allowed 482 yards and the Jayhawks shot themselves in the feet all night with penalties, nine of them for 75 yards.
But for all the people who had trouble seeing more than a win or two on the Jayhawks' 2011 schedule, it might be time to re-evaluate.
Kansas has some offense.
Webb, thrown into the fire last season before he was ready, looks like a different guy. He didn't complete nine of his pass attempts, but three or four of those were dropped. He made pinpoint throws all night and looked the part by staying calm in the pocket and, when he was chased out, being able to throw on the run.
Webb also benefits from a rushing attack that has rolled up 554 yards in two games. KU coach Turner Gill has done a masterful job in plugging different guys at different times. James Sims (110 yards), Darrian Miller (57), Brandon Bourbon (37) and Tony Pierson (37) combined to average 5.3 yards per carry.
As well as Webb threw the football, it would have been understandable if Gill had called more passing plays. Instead, the Jayhawks ran the football 60 times while Webb threw 30 passes, completing 21 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, giving him eight touchdown passes in two games.
Give KU's veteran offensive line a lot of the credit. We knew that would be a strong suit of the team this season, we just didn't know they'd have much to block for.
Turns out, the Jayhawks just might be loaded.
Sims had a nice freshman season in 2010, rushing for 742 yards. But there wasn't much after him and the long season wore him down.
He'll be able to stay fresher this season because of KU's depth, bolstered by freshmen Miller, Bourbon and Pierson.
At least, that's the plan.
Beshears is a threat as a receiver and kick returner — his 51-yard return after Northern Iowa's go-ahead touchdown with 3:41 remaining was one of the biggest plays of the game.
Tight end Tim Biere and quarterback-turned-receiver Kale Pick also were big contributors to the offensive fireworks.
"I think we're confident,'' an always-understated Gill said. "We still have some work to do, but I'm proud of the way we keep moving forward. Now we just have to get ready for the next one.''
The scene at Memorial Stadium was jubilant from the start. KU football fans, starved for entertainment, are liking what they see.
The Jayhawks' players were grooving, too, loving the way they rallied from a 21-7 deficit midway through the second quarter.
At that point, it appeared the Huskies, one of the nation's top offensive teams last season when they were 11-3, might roll KU right out of the stadium.
Instead, Webb gathered the troops and went to work. Kansas rallied to tie the game at halftime, the tying touchdown coming on a 36-yard pass to Pick with only 17 seconds left in the second quarter.
Before long, it was apparent that the last team with the football was probably going to win. It was not a game of defensive stops. Green lights were perpetual.
To make stark improvement, Kansas has to improve defensively and cut down on mistakes. Talented Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish was unstoppable with 404 yards of total offense.
He's a senior. He's been there before.
Kansas doesn't have anyone who has been there before, unless "there" is in the throes of a 3-16 records in the previous 19 games before this season.
KU is starting over.
The Jayhawks, all the experts say, aren't supposed to win many games this season. And those experts might turn out to be right.
But I don't think those experts expected to see this much firepower in Kansas' offense. I know I didn't.