Everyone at Jones AT&T Stadium knew the Kansas Jayhawks were going to try to establish the run against Texas Tech on Saturday.
The coaches on both sides knew it, and the Jayhawks knew Texas Tech would be ready for it. Stopping it, however, was another matter.
KU rushed for a season-high 390 yards and pushed the Red Raiders to double overtime before coming up short, 41-34. But the fact that the Jayhawks pushed a ranked team to the brink on the road could be one of the first signs of a turnaround in head coach Charlie Weis’ inaugural season.
“When you’re going against a defense that, the way your team is set up right now you have to run the ball to have a chance to be successful,” Weis said, “I think it says a lot about a lot of people.”
The first one it says a lot about is junior running back James Sims from Irving. Sims rushed for 127 yards on 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns even though Tech, which allows 125.9 rushing yards per game, stacked the middle against him.
But that just opened it up for speedy sophomore Tony Pierson on the outside. Pierson gashed the Red Raiders on the option to the tune of a season-high 202 rushing yards on 16 carries, breaking off runs of 49 and 69 yards to set up scores. The season high for rushing yards allowed by Tech this season had been 193 against Kansas State.
“The offensive line did a great job of getting push up front for us,” Sims said. “Coming into the game they knew we were going to run and we just had the mindset that we were going to win the line of scrimmage and get what they gave us.”
Even quarterback Michael Cummings got into the act with 41 yards on eight carries, none bigger than the 44-yard keeper to the Texas Tech 20 that set up Nick Prolago’s game-tying field goal with 41 seconds left in regulation.
“I thought we’d hold them between 300, 350,” Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I didn’t think they’d get those two long runs that they got on the option plays, so that’s disappointing a little bit that we didn’t tackle as well. We probably should have made the quarterback run a little more instead of letting him get it out to (Pierson).”
Weis said had the Jayhawks scored a touchdown there instead, he was prepared to go for the two-point conversion to try to win the game.
As well as the Jayhawks ran the ball, however, they struggled to do so when they absolutely had to in the second overtime, and the lack of a consistent passing game — Cummings was just 6 of 15 for 29 yards — eventually came back to bite them.
Kansas ran the ball for 20 of its 25 yards in scoring to open the first overtime, only to have Tech answer and send it into the second extra period. In the second overtime, the Jayhawks faced thrd-and-5 from the Tech 20 when Blake Dees dropped Pierson for a 4-yard loss on the option pitch.
That forced KU to throw on fourth-and-9, and Cummings’ pass under pressure was batted away by Tech safety D.J. Johnson in the end zone to end the game. Even if the pass had been complete the touchdown would have been negated by a penalty for an illegal shift on the Jayhawks.
“At that point you’ve got no alternative (but to throw),” Weis said. “I thought with their coverage we had a good play set up for it, but when the protection broke down he had to heave one up.”
And with that, the Jayhawks came up short in losing their ninth straight overall and 19 straight in the Big 12.
But the effort shown by the Jayhawks gave Weis a reason to smile leaving the stadium and heading into next week’s home finale against Iowa State.
“This was about going on the road with guys who really care and it’s important to them,” Weis said. “I’ll take that group of guys who played today because they give us a chance whenever we play. Am I disappointed that we lost? You betcha. Are they disappointed? You betcha. But at the end of the day our team played like a legitimate team trying to gut it out for four quarters.”
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