Campus Corner

Sunday Rewind: How KU started fast on the first play against Central Michigan

Kansas wide receiver Tony Pierson (3) celebrated with teammates Nigel King (9)and Justin McCay (19) after Pierson scored a touchdown during Saturday’s football game against Central Michigan in Lawrence.
Kansas wide receiver Tony Pierson (3) celebrated with teammates Nigel King (9)and Justin McCay (19) after Pierson scored a touchdown during Saturday’s football game against Central Michigan in Lawrence. AP

First play of the game. A personnel package with four receivers and a tight end. The play call was a sprint sweep to the left edge.

The goal, in short, was to give senior receiver Tony Pierson the ball with an opportunity to make a play. Last week, Pierson was limited to only two touches in Kansas’ 41-3 loss to Duke. So the idea was pretty simple: You can hope Pierson finds himself open space in the passing game, KU coach Charlie Weis would say, or you can guarantee it by incorporating him in the rushing attack.

The idea worked to perfection. Pierson sprinted around the outside, through a hole, and off into open space, finishing off a 74-yard touchdown run on the first offensive play of Kansas’ 24-10 victory over Central Michigan on Saturday night.

“I saw the opening as soon as I hit the corner,” Pierson said. “I saw perfect creases.”

The moment was a catalyst for a critical victory for Weis — especially when the KU offense scuffled for the rest of the half. One week after an ugly performance on the road, the Jayhawks did what they needed to do. The defense didn’t fold. The offense made a few big plays.

But while Pierson’s speed is the first thing you notice on the touchdown run — the play took just 9.93 seconds from handoff to goal line — let’s take a look at the three players that made the play work.

Here’s how Kansas lined up on the first play of the game: That’s tight end Jimmay Mundine in the slot, receiver Nick Harwell to his left, and receiver Justin McCay on the outside. Pierson stepped into the backfield, next to quarterback Montell Cozart.

After Pierson takes the handoff on the sprint sweep, it’s clear who Harwell and McCay need to block. But it appears that Mundine has a decision. He can take on the first linebacker, or move onto the deep safety. Mundine will take the safety, meaning Pierson has to outrun the defensive end and linebacker to the edge.

Moments later, Harwell, McCay and Mundine all hold their blocks perfectly. Here’s how it looked:

Now it’s up to Pierson and his three blockers. You can see the crease. Can they hold their blocks long enough to spring Pierson? The answer is yes.

Pierson finished off the run. The Jayhawks led 7-0 just seconds into the game. And Charlie Weis could feel good about his team again.

“I’d like to give all the credit to the line and the receivers,” Pierson said. “I saw the hole and I hit it. After that, I saw the end zone.”

Up next

The last time Kansas defeated a Big 12 school from the state of Texas? Oct. 27, 2007, at Texas A&M. The Jayhawks will have an opportunity to end that streak on Saturday when Texas comes to Memorial Stadium for a 3 p.m. kickoff.

In the first season under head coach Charlie Strong, the Longhorns, 1-2, are coming off consecutive losses to UCLA and BYU. (They had a bye this past weekend.)

Texas leads the all-time series 11-2 — but is 11-0 against KU during the Big 12 era. The Jayhawks’ only victories came in 1901 and 1938. Quick history lesson: The Jayhawks’ coach in 1901 was John H. Outland, the namesake of the Outland Trophy and the founder of the KU Relays.

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