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September 3, 2011All during fall camp, players and coaches alike talked about the speed that the freshmen class brought to the table. On Saturday, during Kansas' 42-24 win against McNeese State, it became quickly apparent that all the talk may have been true.
"They are the real deal," cornerback Greg Brown said. "We said since they got here that they had a lot of speed and they showed that a lot today."
Let's start with wide receiverJaCorey Shepherd, who was the first Jayhawk freshman to record 100+ receiving yards in a game since Termaine Fulton pulled off the feat in 1997. Shepherd ended up catching three passes for 107 yards with two touchdowns.
Shepherd's first catch came in the third quarter when he hauled in a pass from Jordan Webb and ran it in for a 56-yard touchdown. Fellow wide receiver Kale Pick was in the area where the pass was thrown and thought the pass was directed at him before Shepherd snagged it away.
"Yeah I gave him a little crap for it on the sideline but I was happy for him," Pick said.
Shepherd got extended action after Daymond Patterson left the game with a groin injury. Turner Gill said Patterson was doubtful for next week's game against Northern Illinois.
Shepherd said he figured before the game that he would get to play several snaps, but had no idea that he was going up to put up the numbers that he did.
"For me to go out and have a performance like that it is just a blessing," Shepherd said.
Kansas also showed off its new and improved running game. Sophomore running back James Sims led the way with 104 yards on 19 carries with 1 touchdown, but the two freshmen Darrian Miller and Tony Pierson dazzled fans with their speed and quickness.
Overall, Kansas had 301 yards total on the ground.
"If something is working well then don't try and fix it," Pick said. "We started with the run game early and found out that we can pound the rock and continued to open up lanes on the outside."
On defense, Kansas had trouble defending the screen pass. Brown said that McNeese State's game plan wasn't what they expected.
"They had a lot of run game that we were looking for that they didn't run and unbalanced formations that they didn't run," Brown said. "They had a little film on us last year and we had some trouble with screen passes but there are a lot of fixable things that we can correct."
Defensive coordinator Vic Shealy said without watching the film, the two players who graded out the highest would be inside linebacker Steven Johnson and Toben Opurum.
"Toben had some mental mistakes that kept him from doing some things that he can do but he also showed the ability to press the quarterback," Shealy said
Shealy noted that Johnson excelled in stopping the run game because he is faster and more athletic than he was last year.
"He is also making better decisions and communicating and when a player feels comfortable enough to communicate usually that means he is learning the game and the game is slowing down," Shealy said.
Kansas hopes to continue to build their identity as a running team next week against Northern Illinois. After the game, someone asked Sims how an opposing team can prepare for Kansas with their variety of running backs.
"It's pretty tough," Sims said. "We just got to keep winning games and get our names out there."