Tony Pierson is the fastest player on the Kansas football roster. His speed can intimidate. His big-play ability is always there, just waiting for a crease in the defense.
So it was quite obvious, Kansas coach Clint Bowen says, that the KU staff needed to give Pierson, a senior receiver, more touches in the offense. And there was really only one way to make sure that happened.
“Putting him at tailback a little bit more guarantees that they can’t keep us from turning around and handing it off to him,” Bowen said Monday, during the Big 12 coaches teleconference.
Pierson’s return to running back during Kansas’ 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday was not overly surprising. Bowen hinted at the move last week, and Pierson was working with the running backs during an open practice last Wednesday.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The result: Pierson had a season-high 12 touches against the Cowboys, rushing 10 times for 26 yards and hauling in two receptions for 24 yards. The early returns were not overwhelming, but at least the opportunities were there.
“We just feel he’s arguably the most explosive player we have on the field,” Bowen said. “And for us, where we’re at right now at wide receiver, teams were able to negate our opportunities to get him the ball. Whether it be out of a coverage deal or just having a hard time protecting (the quarterback) and getting him the ball.”
Pierson, who spent his first two seasons at running back, made the switch full-time to receiver last season. He battle concussions last year, missing most of the second half of the season. And even after preseason injuries to senior running backs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, then coach Charlie Weis kept Pierson at receiver.
“Just at that time, I think the philosophy was that he was more valuable on the outside,” Bowen said. “So just kind of saw it differently.”
Kingsbury on Bowen
If any coach in the Big 12 can relate to Clint Bowen, it might be Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, who is in his second year coaching at his alma mater. Kingsbury, a decorated quarterback during his college days, came back to Lubbock with great fanfare last season, but the honeymoon period has partially dried up after a 2-4 start this season.
Now Bowen, Kansas’ interim coach, is getting a taste of being the head man at his alma mater.
“The biggest thing is, you can’t ever get away from it,” Kingsbury said. “Because all your friends and family and everybody you know — most of them have some tie to that university. So win, lose or draw you end up always being brought back to the game. So that’s probably the toughest deal. Your closest circle is usually tied in to that university.”
Progress against Oklahoma State?
It was an opportunity squandered, a seven-point loss to a ranked team at Memorial Stadium. The Jayhawks put a scare into Oklahoma State on Saturday, but they couldn’t finish. Still, Bowen took away some positives from the effort.
“From the day I took over, we kind put an emphasis on creating an identity of what I believe Kansas football has to be,” Bowen said. “And I based that on what our teams were like when we were successful here in the past. We always had a trademark of playing extremely hard. We had a trademark of playing physical and playing tough. And we had a trademark of playing smart.
“This past game, I believe our kids played hard and I believe they played physical. Now we didn’t play smart, so we were two out of three and really that kind of cost us the game.”