Sunday rewind: KU 31, South Dakota St. 17

LAWRENCE — A brief look back at some of the more interesting bits of news and notes from KU’s 31-17 victory over South Dakota State on Saturday night.

If you followed the KU program during fall camp, you probably heard KU coach Charlie Weis state his desire to protect sophomore running back Tony Pierson from a heavy pounding. Pierson, of course, is 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds — stronger than he was last year as a true freshman but still with the lithe body of a cornerback.

So what was the deal with Pierson’s load on Saturday night? He finished with 20 carries while rushing for a team-high 124 yards. According to Weis, the extra touches came out of necessity.

“Well, the game was close,” Weis said. “But it wasn’t like (backup) Taylor (Cox) only had 10 touches there. When you run the ball 48 times … sometimes you’re going to go a little bit over.”

To be fair, it’s not like there’s a huge difference between 15 and 20 carries on any one night. (Although the numbers can add up over the course of a year.) Sometimes things happen during the course of a game, and sometimes game plans change. But judging by how they used Pierson early in the game — he had more than 10 carries in the first quarter — it perhaps suggests that Weis didn’t expect to be in a close game late in the second half.

“I looked at the stat sheet,” Pierson said after the game, “and I had … 20 carries and I didn’t know.”

Weis also added that running backs coach Reggie Mitchell tracks Pierson’s touches during games.

“We were on a pitch count,” Weis said. “So I knew where we were.”

About that 99-yard run

Here’s a good question: How does that happen? When South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner bursted through the line of scrimmage and sprinted 99 yards for a touchdown, the Twitter Snark Alert System went from yellow to orange. (I believe someone even suggested that KU fire Turner Gill. Or maybe it was “hire Turner Gill, and then fire Turner Gill again.”)

Anyway, here’s how Weis explained the breakdown after the game. Spoiler alert: He didn’t really see it; he was busy sorting through the last offensive drive.

“We had two guys both flow to the outside, and one of them was supposed to be inside,” Weis said. “I asked the same question… to be honest with you. Because usually at the start of drives I’ll miss the beginning of drives because I wanna make sure I correct the quarterback, and make sure the offense know what we’re gonna do to start the next drive.

“So I see ‘em pinned back, I’m expecting we’re gonna get good field position. So I’m already laying out the plan as if we’re gonna get the ball in plus-territory. And next thing you know, I hear a roar, and I turn around, and I see that guy right in front of my face.”

Opurum plays it cool

We learned something about senior captain Toben Opurum on Saturday night. And it wasn’t just that he’s continuing to grow as a rush end in Dave Campo’s defense. We also learned that Opurum can be a cool customer when he needs to be a little sly.

In late July, at Big 12 media days, Weis told reporters to not be “surprised” if we saw Opurum, an ex-running back, back in on offense in short-yardage situations.

So for most of August, Opurum was continually asked if Weis had talked to him about playing running back. Each time, Opurum would quietly shrug his shoulders — as if to say, “Nah, not really.”

Well, there was Opurum on offense on Saturday night, serving as the lead blocker on Pierson’s 3-yard touchdown run. Future employers of America, your secrets are safe with Toben Opurum.

Fun stat of the day

KU has now outscored South Dakota State 117-23 in their two meetings. Of course, it doesn’t help that KU once beat SDSU 86-6 in 1947.

Fun stat of the day II

Receivers Chris Omigie and Josh Ford both recorded blocked punts on specials teams on Saturday. According to KU officials, it was the first time KU blocked two kicks in the same game since doing it against Oklahoma in 2004.

Memorial atmosphere

Weis said he was generally pleased with the atmosphere in his first home game at Memorial Stadium. The student section was full — during the first half, at least — Weis got his first chance to start a new tradition by taking his team over to the students to sing the alma mater after the game.

“The only time that it got quiet was deservedly so,” Weis said, “because I thought there were periods of the game where we were flat.

“… I said to the players on the sideline, ‘Hey fellas, you’ve got to create the juice now,’ because there were times it was really loud and the fans were going nuts, and there were times it was really quiet. Usually those quiet times were directly related to how we were playing.”

The Gill Watch

Former KU coach Turner Gill was also making a debut last night, coaching his first game at Liberty. Well, hey, it looks like Gill is getting his new team to believe. The vaunted Flames nearly pulled an upset of Wake Forest, falling 20-17 after leading by a touchdown in the second half.

One more quote

“I’m very disappointed in how I played. I left a ton of throws out on the field. But more than anything, I’m just happy that we got a win.” — KU QB Dayne Crist