When KU coach Charlie Weis gathered his team for its weekly session of practice and meetings on Sunday, he had two points to emphasize.
The Jayhawks had lost 20-6 to TCU on Saturday afternoon, and the negative result meant the first words from the coach would be positive. (Weis claims that he likes to save the verbal takedown sessions for the days after victories.)
So, he first told his players that he was pleased they had played hard for 60 minutes. And then he singled out the entire defense: The Jayhawks were tied for first in the nation with 12 takeaways after three games. Alabama and Mississippi State have also forced 12 turnovers. And if it’s tough to find other positives in a 1-2 start that included a home loss to Rice, this was something to build on.
“Now it starts to become a little bit infectious,” Weis said Monday during the weekly Big 12 teleconference. “Where now they’re counting on knocking the ball out. And I think that in our case, especially, winning the turnover margin is critical to us having a chance of winning.”
Of course, that was not the case against TCU. The Jayhawks forced four fumbles, including three that prevented touchdowns deep in their own territory, but the Horned Frogs still managed a comfortable two-touchdown victory.
That is unusual, Weis concedes, and perhaps also a reflection of the Jayhawks’ lagging offensive productivity. But it’s also true that, while the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy can be successful, the Jayhawks would also like to clean up some of their defensive breakdowns.
The Jayhawks are still just 91st in total defense while allowing 433.7 yards per game. Baby-step improvements from last season? Sure. But certainly not ideal. Still, the turnovers have helped the defense allow just 20.7 points per game, a number that ranks 44th in the country.
“We are pleased with the turnovers that we are causing,” said defensive end Toben Opurum, who forced a fumble that prevented a touchdown on Saturday. “But I feel that (TCU) was getting too much movement in between the 20s. I think that is something that we need to tighten up on.”
Sims to return — Weis said Monday that he’ll be busy this week finding a way to re-insert running back James Sims into the offensive game plan as the Jayhawks prepare to face Northern Illinois on Saturday in their first road test.
Sims, who led the Jayhawks with 742 rushing yards last season, was suspended for the season’s first three games after being cited for operating a vehicle under the influence in Lawrence during the spring.
“He’s paid his penance,” Weis said. “Him sitting out three games; it has certainly not helped us, and certainly not helped him. But I think there’s a right and wrong way of doing business, and I think we’ll be very happy to have him back here.”
Sims had a career-high 26 carries for 110 yards against Northern Illinois last season. And Weis called him the Jayhawks’ most complete running back during fall camp.
But with running backs Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox performing well thus far, Weis said it would be his job to see how Sims could be integrated into the mix.
First look at Northern Illinois — It’s safe to say that Northern Illinois will be plenty motivated after losing at Kansas 45-42 last season. It was the Jayhawks’ final victory of the season, and the Huskies went on to double-digit wins and a bowl game.
“That was a game,” Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said Monday, “in my opinion, we gave away.”
The Huskies will also carry a 16-game home winning streak into Saturday’s game.