Jayhawks Run Past Coyotes in Season-Opening Win, 31-14

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas scored 24 unanswered points to erase an early seven-point deficit and topped South Dakota, 31-14, in the Jayhawks’ season-opener at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

Kansas rushed for 280 yards, including a game-high 94 yards and two touchdowns from James Sims, to claim their ninth win in the last 10 season opening contests, including two straight under Weis. Overall, KU is 89-31-4 when opening the season at home.

Weis called upon five different running backs in the first win of the season. After Sims, Darrian Miller rushed for the second most yards after collecting 86 rushing yards on 14 carries in his first game as a Jayhawk since 2011. Tony Pierson (47) and Taylor Cox (44) also contributed to the Kansas rushing attack.

South Dakota struck first taking a 7-0 lead after quarterback Josh Vander Maten threw a two-yard pass to Drew Potter near the end of the first quarter, but didn’t score again until the junior signal caller punched it in from nine yards out in the fourth quarter.

In the 39:54 between scores, the Jayhawks tallied four scores, including Sims’ two runs, Justin McCay’s first career touchdown pass from Jake Heaps, and a 45-yard field goal from Matthew Wyman – the longest by a Jayhawk since 2009.

In his KU debut, Heaps was 10-for-20 with 110 yards and the TD strike to McCay, his partner on KU’s scout team a season ago. His longest throw of the night was a 25-yard connection with Pierson, who ended the game with two catches for team-best 32 yards.

The Jayhawks added one more touchdown in the fourth quarter as Brandon Bourbon scampered in from three yards to put KU ahead 31-14 with 5:59 left to play.

KU’s defense was strong on opening night as the secondary limited the Coyotes to 67 yards passing – the lowest opposing team total since holding Kansas State to 66 yards on Nov. 7, 2009. Victor Simmons led the team with eight tackles in his first career start, Ben Goodman logged a sack on the Coyotes first play from scrimmage and Keon Stowers logged his first career interception in the first half.

Connor Embree, who earned a scholarship during fall camp, stole the show on special teams averaging 23.5 yards a return. His longest of the night was a 32-yard return. Wyman, in his first game as a Jayhawk, made 3-of-3 PATs and connected from 45-yards, the longest KU made field goal since Jacob Branstetter kicked a 46-yarder against K-State on Nov. 7, 2009.

Kansas continues non-conference action next Saturday against Rice in Houston, Texas – a game that will start at 6:30 p.m. and be televised on CBS College Sports Network.

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Postgame Notes
Kansas improved to 2-0 against South Dakota all-time.

KANSAS CAPTAINS: Jake Heaps (QB), James Sims (HB), Keon Stowers (N), Ben Heeney (MLB)

DEBUTS AT KU: Offense – Jake Heaps (QB), Justin McCay (WR), Rodriguez Coleman (WR), Trevor Pardula (P/K) Matthew Wyman (K), Connor Embree (H/F), Jordan Shelley-Smith (TE), John Wirtel (LS), Brian Beckmann (OL), Billy Owens (WR); Defense – Brandon Hollomon (CB), Beau Bell (LB), Courtney Arnick (NB), Ty McKinney (DL), Tedarian Johnson (DL), Tevin Shaw (S), Greg Allen (CB), T.J. Semke (DL/FB)

FIRST TIME STARTERS AT KU: Offense – Jake Heaps (QB), Justin McCay (WR), Ngalu Fusimalohi (OL), Mike Smithburg (OL), Zach Fondal (OL); Defense – Isaiah Johnson (S), Dexter McDonald (CB), Cassius Sendish (S), Samson Faifili (LB), Victor Simmons (NB), Keon Stowers (N)

*Kansas improved to 70-47-7 in season openers.
*The Jayhawks have won 26 of their last 28 non-conference home games dating back to the start of the 2003 season.
*Kansas improved to 574-580-58 all-time.

*Senior HB James Sims rushed for 96 yards on Saturday, continuing his climb up the KU’s all-time career rushing yards list. He needs just 30 yards to tie David Winbush (1997-00) for seventh in KU history (2,608).
*Sims tied last year’s season-high with two rushing touchdowns. His one-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter and his six-yard scoring run in the third were the 28th and 29th of his career, moving him past Tony Sands (1998-01) on KU’s all-time rushing touchdown list. He now has 31 overall touchdowns, which ranks fourth all-time in KU’s scoring history and only two behind former KU wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe (2007-09).
*Sims finished the night four yards shy of his 12th career 100-yard rushing game, which would have tied former rushing back Jon Cornish for fourth-all time at KU.
*Junior QB Jake Heaps’ five-yard pass to junior WR Justin McCay marked KU’s first touchdown pass to a wide receiver since former QB Jordan Webb hooked up with D.J. Beshears vs. Kansas State (0ct. 22, 2011) – a span of 17 games.
*The play also marked Heaps’ first career touchdown pass and McCay’s first touchdown reception as Jayhawks. Both spent the 2012 campaign working together on the KU scout team.
*KU was whistled for nine penalties, costing the Jayhawks 71 yards. The last time Kansas was that affected by penalties was against Kansas State on Oct. 22, 2011 (9-105). Kansas was one of the most disciplined teams in the nation in terms of penalties per game last season.

*Kansas held South Dakota to 286 total yards, marking the first time the Jayhawk defense held an opponent to less than 300 yards since Sept. 25, 2010 against New Mexico State (275 yards). *The last time Jayhawks held an opponent to less than 100 yards passing was a 95-yard effort against North Dakota State on Sept. 4, 2010. KU held South Dakota to 67 yards passing, the lowest amount surrendered since allowing just 66 yards in the air to Kansas State (Nov. 7, 2009).
*Junior DL Keon Stowers snagged his first career interception in the second quarter. He ran it back for a 66-yard touchdown before it was called back due to two combined penalties, but the interception stood. Stowers’ interception was the first by a KU defensive lineman since fomer player and current graduate assistant Max Onyegbule picked off a pass against Duke on Sept. 19, 2009 – a span of 45 games.
*Sophomore BUCK Ben Goodman recorded a sack in the win, a feat KU accomplished 10 times last season.
*Junior NB Victor Simmons led the team and recorded a career-high eight tackles in his first career start, besting his previous career high of five against Missouri (Nov. 26, 2011).

*Senior WR Josh Ford‘s blocked punt in the first quarter made for his second-straight season with a blocked punt in a season opener. He and former teammate Chris Omigie each blocked punts against South Dakota State last season (9/1/12).
*Junior H/F Connor Embree returned a punt for 42 yards in the fourth quarter, the longest punt return by a Jayhawk since Daymond Patterson’s 49-yard punt return against UTEP on Sept. 12, 2009. Embree, a former walk-on, was awarded a scholarship during fall camp.
*Redshirt freshman K Matthew Wyman’s 45-yard field goal is the longest by a Jayhawk kicker since former kicker Jacob Branstetter’s 46-yard make at Kansas State on Nov. 7, 2009.

Kansas Head Coach Charlie Weis
On the game as a whole:
“I thought the game as a whole was pretty sloppy. Our defense was sloppy and our special teams were just ok. I would say it’s the typical first game jitters in some cases. But this game is definitely a learning experience for us.”

On the running game:
“Initially I wasn’t so high about it. But once I was able to see what they were doing on defense it gave me a chance to be a little more patient. Coming out of halftime, I said we just need to run the ball down their throat. And that’s what we need to be able to do. But as the game went on, our running game did get better.”

On Jake Heaps’ performance:
“He had a couple drops and a couple throw aways, and those throw aways count as incompletes too. I think there were a few really nice touch passes and a few really nice down field throws.”

On the special teams’ performance:
“When I put (Conner) Embree back there everyone said, ‘Who is Embree?’ But that’s who he is. Embree makes good decisions. He usually makes the first guy miss. He won’t always take everyone to the house but he makes good decisions and gets us 10 yards when we need it. He will be highly rated in the conference once the year is over. When I put (Matthew) Wyman in for the 45-yarder I bet the stadium was holding their breath saying, ‘Here we go again.’ It was nice to see him make it on the first opportunity he had.”

Ben Heeney, Jr., LB
On what it feels like to win again:
“It feels good. It feels so good to get that win. It’s been over a year, I think, since our last win, but it felt so good to win as a team and to celebrate as a team.”

On the penalties:
“I think it was jitters. It’s just mistakes made, but we’ll learn from those and hopefully not make the same mistakes next week.”

Ben Goodman, So., BUCK
On the heat:
“I ended up catching a cramp, but that’s no big deal. But yeah, the heat and humidity got to us a bit, we were all sweating out there.”

On disrupting plays in the backfield:
“It took a lot of preparation. We had an extra jump, an extra week on them to prepare. We just studied a lot of film and the plays presented themselves and I was there to make the plays.”

Keon Stowers, Jr., DL
On his interception:
“Well I dropped back and he threw it to me, and I didn’t even realize I had the ball in my hands and I looked down and said ‘Oh crap! It’s in my hands!’ Then I took off running. I really credit my defensive players for going out and putting those blocks on for me like we practiced. I will never forget that.”

On the team’s overall defensive performance:
“I think we played well. We had a game plan to come out and pressure them hard early and we had some good early stops. We gave up a little bit of ground in the middle of the game, but I think overall we played pretty well.”

Brandon Bourbon, Jr., RB
On starting off the season with a win:
“It was really fun to get back out there; the main thing is we got the win. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, but at the same time a win is a win and we are looking forward to the next one.”

On improvements what improvements the team needs to make:
“For one thing, I think the penalties, we really have to cut out. We had a lot of stupid penalties that don’t make any sense and it’s just people being careless or not being into the game, I would start with that. We need to eliminate those first of all.”

On the performance by the offense:
“We ran the ball pretty well in the second half. We kind of got off to a slow start and our protections were a little messed up and we got sacked. There was a lot of pressure we need to eliminate on Jake (Heaps); we need to give him more time to sit back there and scan the field. At the same time, we got it going in the second half and it looked a lot better.”

Jake Heaps, Jr., QB
On getting back on the field:
“It was great to get back out there. There were a lot of mixed emotions, we were excited and there was a lot of work that went into me stepping out on the field with this team. I was just so happy to be running out there with my teammates, going and getting a win, it was a great moment.”

On the first touchdown pass to a wide receiver:
“No question about it we had talked about that all summer long and we really worked hard as a receiving corps with the quarterbacks and the tight ends in the passing game. We got a touchdown and that was an exciting moment for Justin (McCay) and I and the rest of the team and the receiving corps. It’s just one less thing people can talk about and that’s what we are trying to do.”

On playing first game in two years:
“There was a lot of adrenaline running through me, I was so excited and emotional and happy to be out there on the field. You just appreciate those moments, warming up and stepping out on the field and all that kind of stuff, you just really appreciate it. I was just excited and anxious to get back out there and get my first completion. It was great being out there and getting a win.”

Connor Embree, Jr., RB
On the special teams’ play:
“I saw some big lanes all night. The punt-return team did a great job blocking, they worked hard for me and I’ve just got to thank them. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to do anything I did tonight.”

On special teams’ development:
“We practice special teams every single day. We work hard and we’ve got to thank the scout teams; they give us great looks each and every week so that helps us out a lot. It’s been looking like that (good), we’ve been busting our butts in practice so I’m happy to be able to convert on the field.”

On enjoying the win:
“We’ve already moved on, we’ve got to get ready for Rice. We played well, but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement and we know we have to come ready for Rice next week. They’re a great team and we’re going to have to be clicking on all teams.”

South Dakota Head Coach Joe Glenn
Opening Statement:
“We played hard, and I thought we gave a good effort until we basically wore down. Mostly wore down because of their football team, but maybe it was the heat as well. Their team may have worn down a little bit defensively at the end as well. It’s hard to stay on the field and chase people all over the field. Both defenses wore down a little bit. They had a little more firepower offensively than we did. We traveled with 27 freshmen down here, which means we are going to have to get older in a hurry. Hopefully we don’t play too many teams with that much talent. I really wish we would get better in our passing game. We got better in the running game from a week ago. We rushed for 219 yards, that’s about 20 more than last week. Defensively, we aren’t very deep. We lost a lot of guys coming in to the season, and then we had a defensive tackle that was down tonight. We just didn’t hold up very well against their running game.”

On playing in the Big 12 environment:
“We played hard. We just weren’t good enough to hold them off. They didn’t really have to pass the ball a lot. They were just able to push it through and run on us. It’s disappointing. I thought we were a little bit better than that. We held up in the running game last week, but they did a nice job of just taking us and stretching us out. They got to the perimeter a lot. That was a big line we faced, too. They have bigger guys than we do.”

On areas of improvement:
“I really think we could improve on everything, all the way around. I think we opened up the game trying to take a shot and we broke down at the line of scrimmage. Then we missed a ball and miss throw a ball. Then we just went through the same cycle again.”

Dyllon Knox, Sr, DB
On how they felt after the first quarter:
“Throughout the whole game we thought we could win. We were never going to give up and we were encouraged throughout the first quarter. We had our chances, we missed some plays but it’s the game of football. We are just going to walk out of here with our heads up. Kansas did a great job, hats off to them.”

Tyler Starr, Sr, Linebacker
On Jake Heaps:
“I knew he came from BYU, and was a number one quarterback coming out of high school. I was just impressed with his leadership out there. Kansas is a team with a lot of transfers in there, and sometimes you get guys who don’t like to listen, but they listened to him and he let them know. They had a couple big plays on us and definitely he’s a good quarterback.”