The first game of the Charlie Weis era ended in a Jayhawk victory, but it began with a missed 35-yard Ron Doherty field goal.
The Jackrabbits exploited the Jayhawks slow start. A 99-yard Zach Zenner touchdown run put South Dakota State ahead seven to nothing following Doherty’s missed attempt. Despite the slow start, the Jayhawks found a rhythm early in the second half.
“The performance had its highs and lows, but as a coach this is utopia,” coach Charlie Weis said. “What’s going to happen is the guys are going to go out and enjoy themselves tonight, but on the flip side there will be so many things on the tape where you’ll look and say ‘what are we doing?’”
Weis said this week will be an opportunity for the team to better themselves after seeing the field for live play.
The Jayhawks followed SDSU’s 99-yard run with a Tony Pierson touchdown, 22-yard Ron Doherty field goal, a 47-yard Pierson touchdown run, and a Mike Ragone touchdown grab.
After giving up 24 unanswered points, the Jackrabbits subbed in veteran quarterback Austin Sumner, who reportedly wouldn’t play against the Jayhawks with an injury to his throwing arm.
“I was a little surprised,” Weis said. “But, the one thing you did know is he was coming in to throw. To be honest with you, you have to give the kid a lot of credit. He threw the ball pretty well.”
Sumner quickly scored on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Tyrel Kool with 12:52 left in the fourth quarter. The Jackrabbits followed that drive with a 5-play, 48-yard drive that resulted in a 25-yard Jackrabbit field goal.
The Jayhawks answered back with a Taylor Cox touchdown run at the 5:36 mark to seal the game.
The Kansas offense showed explosiveness in the running game, rushing for 263 yards and three touchdowns on the shoulders of Tony Pierson’s 20-carry, 124-yard performance and Taylor Cox’s 16-carry, 121-yard night. Pierson set the bar high with a 47-yard touchdown run.
“First, I give credit to the offensive line, receivers and tight ends,” Pierson said. “They opened up the holes for me and got me into the secondary. I made a move and touchdown.”
The Kansas passing game struggled to find a rhythm in a 169-yard performance. Dayne Crist went 17-of-36 with one touchdown and one interception.
“I’m very disappointed with how I played.” Crist said. “I left a ton of throws out on the field, but more than anything I’m just happy we got the win. I couldn’t be more happy for my teammates, and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.”
Solid performances from defensive tackle Jordon Tavai and safety Bradley McDougald led the Kansas defense, a unit that forced five Jackrabbit turnovers.
McDougald matched his interception total from last season with two picks in the season opener. McDougald attributed his performance to the coaching of defensive coordinator Dave Campo and Defensive Backs coach Clint Bowen.
“The biggest thing is their coaching of urgency and the attention to detail,” McDougald said. “It’s just urgency, getting to the ball, playing fierce and making plays. That’s what they’ve tried to help me with.”
The night ended with the Weis instated tradition of singing the alma mater in front of the Kansas student section.
“Being over there for it, that’s what I was hoping for,” Weis said. “If you looked at our players, they genuinely had joy on their face. Then you looked at the student body, they enjoyed connecting with the football players.”
The Jayhawks take on the Rice Owls Sept. 8 at 2:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.