Jayhawks Host Jackrabbits to Kick Off 2015 Season

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – After a long summer and fall camp, the Kansas football team welcomes FCS foe South Dakota State to Memorial Stadium to kickoff the 2015 season Saturday, September 5, at 11 a.m. Fans in attendance can enjoy a KU Football Jersey Towel giveway courtesy of Cox Communications, while supplies last.

The Jayhawks and Jackrabbits have faced off against one another twice in the history of the two programs. The two squads first met on the gridiron October 11, 1947, where Kansas came out on top by a score of 86-6 in Lawrence. It would be 65 years until the two schools would meet again (September 1, 2012) and this time the Jayhawks outscored South Dakota State 31-17. Saturday’s matchup will be the third time KU will face SDSU and the second time it will open its season against the FCS opponent.

Kansas running backs Taylor Cox and Tony Pierson each rushed for over 100 yards while the KU defense forced four turnovers, as the Jayhawks defeated the South Dakota State, 31-17, in its season opener Saturday night, September 1, 2012. Two returning Jayhawks recorded statistics in that contest in Cox and redshirt-junior linebacker Schyler Miles. Cox rushed for 121 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, while Miles recorded one tackle in the game.

South Dakota State is tasked with replacing its career passing leader, a three-time 2,000-yard rusher and a wide receiver ranked second in program history in receptions. Probable starter, Zach Lujan, filled in last season leading the Jackrabbits to a 5-2 record in seven starts, but was held out of team activities in the spring after surgery. The offense will incorporate two or three running backs in order to replace Zach Zenner who ran for over 6,500 yards in his career. Led by All-America wide receiver Jake Wieneke, the Jackrabbits look to have a successful aerial assault this season due to Wieneke’s breakout season a year ago. Wieneke returns after catching 73 passes for 1,404 yards in 2014.

Returning statistical leaders:
Passing – Zach Lujan 1,943 yards
Rushing – Brady Mengarelli 332 yards, Reggie Gandy, 108 yards
Receiving – Jake Wieneke 1,404 yards, Trevor Wesley, 427 yards

The Jackrabbit defense is returning nine starters from 2014, including Second Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference defensive tackle Cole Langer. Langer completed the year with 49 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Senior linebacker T.J. Lally is set to start for the fourth-consecutive season after posting 117 tackles and 9.5 tackles-for-loss a year ago. In the secondary, the Jackrabbits return three-of-four starters, including both starting cornerbacks. SDSU only allowed 192.1 yards passing in 2014, good for second in the MVFC.

Returning statistical leaders:
Tackles – T.J. Lally 117, Nick Mears 96, Jessee Bobbit 90
Sacks – Kellen Soulek 2.0, Cole Langer and Chase Kern 1.5
Interceptions – Je Ryan Butler 2

In 18 seasons of work, South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier has amassed a 120-86 overall record to become the winningest coach in Jackrabbit history. Stiegelmeier has reached the Football Championship Series (FCS) playoff four times (2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014). Under his conduction, SDSU has recorded nine winning seasons in the school’s 11-total years at the FCS level. Overall, the Jackrabbits have achieved a winning record in 14 of Stiegelmeier’s 18 seasons at the helm.

When head coach David Beaty inherited the program in December, there were 17 players on the Kansas roster that hailed from the state of Texas. An emphasis Beaty placed on recruiting became delving into the Lone Star State to snatch recruits away from the power-programs lurking in football’s hot bed. By the beginning of Fall Camp, Beaty and his staff wrangled 27 recruits with ties from Texas to Lawrence. Nine Texans are slated for Saturday’s starting lineup, with 13 more listed on the two-deep depth chart.

Texas-bred players dwarf any other home state on the roster. The state of Kansas ranks second with 21 players calling the Sunflower State home. Compared to previous seasons, this number is drastically down from the 2014 roster that listed 39 Kansas-born players. The 2013 season compared more favorably to this year as the program claimed 23 native Kansans.

Dating back to the program’s first season in 1890, head coaches at Kansas are generally successful in their first game at the helm. Over the last 125 years, the head ball coaches have amassed an overall record of 21-13-3 and have historically outscored opponents 673-to-406 on opening weekend.

For the first time in six years, Kansas won’t be debuting a new week one starter after head coach David Beaty named junior Montell Cozart his opening weekend starting quarterback. Cozart put an end to a streak of six-consecutive seasons, dating back to 2009, the Jayhawks trotted a different quarterback to the line of scrimmage in the season’s opening offensive possession.

Below are each quarterback’s week one numbers from their respective seasons:

2009 – Todd Reesing – 13-20, 208 YDS, 2 TD… 49-3 win vs. Northern Colorado
2010 – Kale Pick – 13-22, INT, 138 YDS… 3-6 loss vs. North Dakota State
2011 – Jordan Webb – 7-10, 146 YDS, 3 TD… 42-24 win vs. McNeese State
2012 – Dayne Crist – 17-36, INT, 169 YDS, TD… 31-17 win vs. South Dakota State
2013 – Jake Heaps – 10-20, 110 YDS, TD… 31-14 win vs. South Dakota
2014 – Montell Cozart – 12-24, 196 YDS, 3 TD… 34-28 win vs. Southeast Missouri State

Discounting each of the graduate transfers that have seen action at other Division I institutions and are eligible to play immediately in 2015, Kansas has just 56 members of the 2014 team returning this fall. Of that number, only 40 have seen time in an actual contest. Disregarding offensive linemen due to the position’s lack of recordable statistics, the number of returnees is 49, with only 31 of those recording any type of statistic over their career. In other words, be on the lookout for numerous players making their collegiate debut. There are 25 out of 59 listed on the week one version of the depth chart that have never set foot on the field in a Division I game.

The Jayhawks will continue their non-conference slate as they play host to Memphis, Saturday, September 12. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. and can be seen on the Jayhawk Television Network.

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