Kansas Outlasts South Dakota State, 31-17, in Season Opener
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas running backs Taylor Cox and Tony Pierson each rushed for over 100 yards while the KU defense forced four turnovers, as Kansas defeated the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, 31-17, in its season opener Saturday night inside Memorial Stadium.
Kansas is 1-0 for the eighth time since the 2004 campaign, while South Dakota State drops to 0-1 on the season.
It was a tale of two halves, as Kansas outscored the Jackrabbits, 21-10, in the second half starting Charlie Weis’ KU head coaching career off on the right foot.
The South Dakota State defense had no answers for the KU rushing attack, which gained a total of 263 yards on the ground. Pierson and Cox each notched career highs on the night, collecting 128 and 125 yards, respectively.
The duo’s performance marked the first time Kansas featured a pair of 100-plus yard rushers in the same game since Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp both hit the century mark against Central Michigan in 2007.
KU’s defense used several big plays to tame the pesky Jackrabbit offense. The Jayhawks notched four interceptions, also a first since the 2007 season. KU held SDSU to just three third-down conversions on 14 attempts.
KU used a strong start to the second half to out outlast the visitors from Brookings, S.D. Pierson got the Jayhawk offense going after the intermission when he broke free on an off-tackle run. The East St. Louis, Ill., native took it 47 yards for the score with less than five minutes into the third quarter. The run matched his career high and gave the Jayhawks their first two-possession lead of the contest.
The KU defense then applied the pressure when it forced the first turnover of season on the ensuing Jackrabbit drive. Senior safety Bradley McDougald stepped in front of SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner’s first pass of the game to snag his fifth-career interception.
The McDougald pick gave the Jayhawks prime field position, which they used to their advantage. Crist found senior tight end Mike Ragone on a 2-yard touchdown pass at the end of a seven-play drive to up the KU lead, 24-7. The score marked the first touchdown reception in Ragone’s collegiate career and the first touchdown pass for Crist in a Jayhawk uniform.
Crist went 17-of-36 for 167 yards and added a touchdown pass in his Jayhawk debut.
The Jackrabbits didn’t say die however, scoring 10 points in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter to narrow the Kansas lead to seven.
The Jackrabbits opened the scoring in the game when sophomore Zach Zenner broke free for a 99-yard touchdown run with 6:30 minutes into the opening quarter. The rush was the longest in Jackrabbit history and the longest run ever given up by a Kansas defense.
The Jayhawks responded eight minutes later when Tony Pierson found the end zone for the first time on a rush from three yards out to even the score, 7-7.
Later in the half, the Jayhawk special teams unit came up big when junior Josh Ford blocked an SDSU punt, giving Kansas great field position once again. The KU drive ended in a Ron Doherty field goal, giving the Jayhawks a 10-7 advantage as they headed into the locker room.
Kansas will return to the gridiron on Saturday, Sept. 8 for a matchup against the Rice Owls. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m., and will be televised on Fox Sports Net.
Kansas improved to 2-0 against South Dakota State all-time.
KANSAS CAPTAINS: Dayne Crist (QB), Tanner Hawkinson (OT), Toben Opurum (DE/LB)
DEBUTS AT KU: Offense – Dylan Admire (OL), Taylor Cox (HB), Dayne Crist (QB), Josh Ford(WR), Reilly Jeffers (OL), Aslam Sterling (RG), Gavin Howard (RT), Tre’ Parmalee (WR), Mike Ragone (TE), Taylor Cox (HB). Defense – Ben Goodman (DL), Jake Love (LB), Schyler Miles(LB), Koen Stowers (DL), Jordan Tavai (N), Josh Williams (END), Tyree Williams (CB)
FIRST TIME STARTERS AT KU: Offense – Dayne Crist (QB), Gavin Howard (RT), Mike Ragone(TE). Aslam Sterling (RG). Defense – Josh Williams (END), Jordan Tavai (N), Ben Heeney (MLB)
- Kansas improved to 69-47-7 in season openers.
- The Jayhawks have won 25 of its last 27 non-conference home games dating back to the start of the 2003 season.
- KU is 24-11 in its last 35 home games and 25-5 in its last 30 games against non-Big 12 opponents.
- Kansas improved to 573-569-58 all-time.
- Senior Kale Pick’s 43-yard reception from senior Dayne Crist on the first drive of the game was the longest of his career, surpassing a 36-yard catch against Northern Illinois last season. For Crist, it was his longest pass completion since an 80 yarder against Western Michigan in 2010 while at Notre Dame.
- Pick had a career-high 81 receiving yards in the game, surpassing his 55 against Northern Illinois last season (9/10/11).
- Crist finished with 17 completions to mark the ninth time in his career he had 10 or more completions in a game. His 169 yards passing was the ninth time he threw for 169 or more yards in a game for his career.
- Sophomore Tony Pierson’s three-yard touchdown in the first quarter was his fourth TD of his career and first since the Baylor game in 2011 (11/12/11). He added a fourth in the third quarter.
- Pierson’s 47-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter matched his career long rush versus McNeese State last year. It was the first multi-TD game of his career.
- Pierson’s 124 yards rushing marked his first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
- Junior Taylor Cox had 121 rushing yards. The last time a KU player rushed for at least 100 yards in a debut was James Sims with 101 against Georgia Tech during the 2010 season (9/11/10).
- With Pierson and Cox topping the century mark, it was the first time Kansas had two players with 100 or more yards rushing in a game since playing Central Michigan in 2007 (9/1/07) when Brandon McAnderson had 110 and Jake Sharp had 106.
- Senior Toben Opurum was the lead blocker on Pierson’s three-yard touchdown run. It was Opurum’s first time on the offense side of the ball since the 2009 Texas game (11/21/09). KU’s communications staff believes it is the first time KU had a player play offense and defense since Bradley McDougald against Missouri in the 2009 season finale (11/28/09).
- Senior Mike Ragone caught his first career touchdown from Crist in the third quarter. For Crist, it was his 17th career TD pass and first since the Notre Dame-Navy game in 2010.
- Junior Huldon Tharp’s start was his first since the 2009 season. He appeared in 10 games last year with no starts.
- Senior Bradley McDougald’s interception in the third quarter was the fifth of his career and added a sixth later. With his last pick against Missouri in the 2011 season finale, McDougald recorded interceptions in consecutive games. The last KU player to record interceptions in consecutive games was Justin Thornton during the 2007 season against Baylor (10/13/07) and at Colorado (10/20/07).
- McDougald’s two interceptions marked the first time a Jayhawk had two picks in the same game since Darrell Stuckey had two picks against Missouri in 2008 (11/28/08).
- Kansas had four interceptions against South Dakota State. The last time KU had four interceptions in a game was against Nebraska in 2007 (11/3/07).
- Senior Greg Brown led Kansas with eight total tackles, which were two shy of his career high of 10 against Nebraska in 2010.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
- Senior Daymond Patterson’s 33-yard punt return in the first quarter was his longest since his sophomore season when he had a 49-yard return at UTEP (9/12/09).
- Junior Chris Omigie’s blocked punt in the first quarter was the first for KU since Nick Sizemore blocked a punt at Oklahoma State last season (10/8/11).
- Josh Ford blocked his first punt of his KU career.
- The last time Kansas recorded multiple blocked kicks in the same game was at Oklahoma in 2004 (10/23/04).
Kansas Head Coach Charlie Weis
On the game:
“The first thing we wanted to accomplish was to win the football game, because I knew there would be ups and downs in this game and I didn’t think we’d be perfect in the first rattle out of the box. Psychologically, it is so much easier on Sunday to constructively criticize all the things that happened in a game, especially after a win. I think it’s a lot tougher after a loss. [The players] can enjoy themselves for the first time in a long time. Then tomorrow, we can go and look at all the things we did wrong, see if we’ll be able to get better next week.”
On the run game:
“I think that we’re deep in talent at running back; trying to find those guys the ball. I know that it was pretty close to even as far as Tony (Pierson) and Taylor’s (Cox) carries go. They were both productive in the game, allowing us to really control the field possession. When we really laid a bit of an egg somewhat on third down conversions, but more importantly in the red zone, it wasn’t a great performance.”
On Dayne Crist’s performance:
“There were some throws out there he’d like to have back and he was a little rusty. But to be honest with you, he was a little anxious. Remember, he went all year last year without playing. He got yanked in the first game last year, so he hasn’t played in a long time. I think that he’ll just get better every single week. I think he feels really good that he was walking off the field healthy, slowing it down a bunch. Some of it is his fault, some of it is other’s guys fault, but I think we’re pretty happy right now.”
On the play of his special teams:
“I’m pretty happy with a number of things on special teams, except for those two kickoff returns earlier in the third quarter; that gave them some good field position. But I think a number of players stepped up. I’ll give you an insignificant one, no one made a big deal about it but the snapping in the game, and you really didn’t notice the snappers in the game. So, I guess both Trevor (Marrongelli) and Reilly (Jeffers) must’ve done a good job.”
Senior Quarterback Dayne Crist
On how the running game helped the flow of the offense:
“All the running backs in conjunction with the offensive line really carried the game. They really got us through some lulls throughout the course of the game. The two up here (Taylor Cox and Tony Pierson) both run incredibly hard. We expect that out of them each week. They did a great job tonight.”
On Tony Pierson’s touchdown run:
“He never ceases to amaze me.”
On his personal performance:
“I’m very disappointed in how I played. I left a ton of throws out on the field, but more than anything I’m just happy that we got a win. I couldn’t be more happy for my teammates, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.”
Sophomore running back Tony Pierson
On his number of carries and how the running backs played:
“Going into today, me, Taylor (Cox) and the rest of the running back crew wanted to come in and play with confidence. I looked on the stat sheet and I had over 20 carries and I didn’t know. I wanted to play hard and win the game.”
Senior Defensive Tackle Josh Williams
On his fumble recovery:
“I saw the ball the whole time. I went after the ball because I saw somebody else going for the tackle, so I wanted to go for the ball.”
Senior Defensive End Toben Opurum
On how the defense responded after allowing the 99-yard touchdown run:
“I think something like that proves how much stronger we’ve gotten mentally. We wanted to keep him down there, but he was able to break loose. We managed to come back and get a couple stops, and we ended up winning the game. I think that shows how far we’ve progressed as a team – the fact that something like that could happen in a game and we were able to bounce back.
Senior Wide Receiver Daymond Patterson:
On his comeback from injury:
“This being the first game, we as an offense didn’t play the way we wanted to. But it’s all about going out there and learning. It’s been about a year since I’ve been out there and I was just really excited to be out there again with my teammates. We are going to learn from this experience.”
On how the coaches have improved his game:
“Coach (Dave) Campo and (Clint) Bowen have been working with me since they got here. They approached me today and told me about the impression I made when they first got here along with the news they got from the previous staff and how I’ve made a transition overtime. They coach with urgency and the amount of details has really helped me add to my game. Simple things like getting to the ball, playing fiercely and making plays.”
Senior safety Bradley McDougald
On his team’s defensive performance:
“The defense as a total, we of course let up some big plays. We let up a 99-yard touchdown and a couple deep balls. Like Coach (Dave) Campo always says, `If you eliminate the big plays and look how you did within the game moving the ball.’ I would say the defense played pretty well, but of course you can take away the big plays. Credit them for making them, but besides the big plays that they had, I would say the defense played pretty well.”
Senior Tight End Mike Ragone
On his first touchdown:
“It felt great. It felt even better to win the game.”
Junior Halfback Taylor Cox
On his performance in the first game:
“Coming into the game I wanted to run hard just like I was doing in practice all week. I have to give credit to the offensive line and my tight ends. I felt like they kind of made it easy for me.”
South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier
“I want to congratulate Coach Weis and his football team for a win. I really felt that we had played some sloppy football at times and played ourselves back into the game but we just failed to keep playing it. As we mature as a football program, I expect we will make those plays and we will get better. I’m proud of our players in a ton of ways. I thought they walked onto the field and felt they could win. I don’t think that belief ever changed, we just need to play cleaner football, starting out with a punt team and tackling.
On Zach Zenner’s big run early in the game:
“They got the big pass that gave them momentum and I guess that helped them. Zach’s deal was just a tremendous effort on his part. We have some pretty good football players. It was a big boost and he kept playing hard. Like Austin (Sumner) said, he’s a good football player.”
On the quarterback change during the game:
“First of all I think Eric Klein did everything we asked him to do. It’s not easy for a guy to take all those reps and lead the football team. We felt that there were some throws that weren’t thrown because the game was moving maybe a little too fast. It maybe a negative point, but the game does move fast. It’s so easy to go get studs, it’s so easy to watch yourself against a team like that and you learn a lot. Austin said he was ready to play; we wanted to possibly start him. But I didn’t think he would play until I felt that we needed to make some throws.”
On what changed in the past 24 hours that aided in the decision to play Austin Sumner:
“We were told it was a two to four week injury. Austin wanted to play the day after he was injured and so you balance the spirit of a young man, and the health of a young man, the welfare of your football team and a guy that took all the reps. I told (Austin) he wasn’t going to play. Had we made more plays than a 99-yard run in the first half, I don’t think he would have played. But we weren’t making those plays; we felt we needed a shot and he said he was ready.”
South Dakota State freshman quarterback Eric Kline
On the fourth down in the third quarter where SDSU used two timeouts:
“We can’t make those mistakes; we really had an opportunity and we didn’t take advantage of it. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot there and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.”
On if he feels better getting a game under his belt:
“I mean no, because we didn’t get the win. It feels a little different and it was good to get out there play someone else, but it would’ve been a lot better to get the win.”
South Dakota State sophomore running back Zach Zenner
On the 99-yard run:
“We have been working on a lot of the same running plays for the past few weeks and we thought that one would maybe hit big and it did.”
On if he was surprised to outrun the KU defense:
“I wasn’t thinking about that, I was thinking about running.”
On SDSU’s ground attack tonight compared to last season:
“I mean we brought in (offensive line) Coach (John) Flynn. He brought a different atmosphere. (Former offensive line) Coach (Luke) Meadows is a great coach and bringing in Coach Flynn is just a different approach to things and it worked out today. I think it will (work) the rest of the season.”
On setting a school record with the 99-yard run:
“To be honest, it doesn’t feel that great because we lost.”
On if he noticed a difference between Kansas and other bigger schools he’s played against:
“I didn’t really notice it; I got exposure to that last year at Illinois and when we were at Illinois. Once you play a team you’re just ready for it; you’re expecting it and you’re just approaching the game the same way.”
On his change in roles this season:
“A lot of us came in over the summer and worked hard. For us to stay over the summer is a big deal because it’s a choice–it’s optional. We had a bunch of guys stay and put a lot of work in and a lot of sweat in. Honestly it started before then with spring ball and a great fall camp before that.”
On what he adds to the team:
“A player who gives 100 percent every play.”
South Dakota State senior linebacker Ross Shafrath
On the team getting game experience at Kansas:
“It’s definitely good to get a game under our belts and we definitely have positive things to take out of this game.”