Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kansas seeking ways to get Pierson more touches

Kansas receiver Tony Pierson cruises up the sideline for a long gain against Southeast Missouri State during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas receiver Tony Pierson cruises up the sideline for a long gain against Southeast Missouri State during the first quarter on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.


When you own a Ferrari, taking the bus is not quite as fulfilling.

That’s the epidemic plaguing the Kansas University football team five games into the 2014 season, with senior Tony Pierson stuck in neutral and the rest of the offense struggling around him.

Pierson, who, despite missing five games because of injury in 2013, led all KU wide receivers in yards (333) and receptions (24). But he has been a tough guy to get the ball to so far this season. Through five games, the running-back-turned-wideout has touched the ball just 22 times and raced to 283 yards and two touchdowns.

The 12.9-yards-per-touch number is a good indication of what Pierson can do, but for a guy who keeps many Big 12 defensive coordinators up at night, fewer than five attempts per game is not nearly enough, and the Jayhawks know it.

“When you have a player of his caliber, he needs to touch the ball,” interim coach Clint Bowen said Tuesday.

Unfortunately for Kansas, it’s not quite that simple. There are ways to force-feed Pierson the ball, and, according to Bowen, “there will be a concerted effort to make sure that Tony becomes a major part of the game.”

But in order to put the senior from East St. Louis, Illinois, in that position, a lot of things that have gone wrong suddenly have to start going right.

“When you’re playing receiver, a lot of things have to happen for the ball to end up in your hands, and all of them take execution by other people,” offensive coordinator John Reagan said.

Added wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau, who was an OC for stints at Colorado and Washington: “It sounds good in theory, especially when you’re not doing well, ‘Well, you gotta give him the ball.’ And, yes, we do. I’m not discounting that. But teams know who your players are. They get scholarship checks, they get paychecks, they watch the film, they know who’s who. They know. You can say you want to throw the ball to Tony 60 times a game but if they have three guys on him you can’t do it.”

One of the best ways to eliminate Pierson’s dependence on others is to put him in the backfield and hand him the ball. He still would need the offensive line to do its job, but at least the ball would be in his hands. Just eight of Pierson’s 22 touches have come in the backfield, with one of them going for a 74-yard touchdown and his average per carry sitting right at 15 yards. Bowen indicated that could be an option in the weeks ahead, and Pierson, through a post on one of his social media accounts, seemed to be OK with the idea, as well.

“That is definitely a focus,” Reagan said of getting Pierson more involved. “There’s no question. When you have a guy that’s been as dynamic as he has over the years, we’ve gotta find a way to get him the ball.”

Added Kiesau of not using Pierson enough: “It definitely takes a percentage of your production away. But we’ll find ways to get him the ball. There’s no doubt. We’ll keep banging away at it and really try to distribute the ball all the way around, which would be good.”

QB competition

Bowen said Tuesday that quarterbacks Montell Cozart, Michael Cummings and T.J. Millweard all would receive significant reps this week in practice as the Jayhawks search for the best fit for their offense.

While Cozart proved to be that guy during spring drills, fall camp and the first four weeks of the season, his 98.2 pass efficiency rating through five games (114th out of 116 FBS quarterbacks) has left the KU coaching staff exploring the idea of opening up the job. Cummings played the second half last week and has five career starts to his name. And Millweard, a transfer from UCLA, remains the mystery man in the race.

“I would say it’s rare for an in-season situation,” Reagan said. “What we’ve gotta do is find the right quarterback that’s producing.”

In order to identify who that is, Reagan said the game plan this week was to tweak things just enough to create a true test.

“We’re gonna amp things up, we’re gonna make it difficult in practice to hopefully make games easier,” he said. “And you just keep working. You just keep going at it.”

Mann OK, Martin still out

Junior running back De’Andre Mann, who left last week’s game and did not return after just one carry, is healthy and expected to play this week, according to Bowen. Bowen confirmed that Mann suffered a minor injury, but tests and treatment did not reveal anything significant.

As for right tackle Damon Martin, who has missed the past two games, Bowen said he thinks the junior is “still a ways away,” from a return.

Junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck started last week’s game in Martin’s place.

2016 commitment reported Tuesday that Aubrey White, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound Class of 2016 athlete/running back from East High in Wylie, Texas, had orally committed to Kansas.

White, a three-star prospect ranked as the 68th best player in Texas, chose KU over offers from Arkansas, Houston, Indiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, TCU and others.


Brett McCabe 7 years ago

I know it's not written in stone but getting a verbal commitment from a kid a week after firing the coach is pretty impressive, especially when you look at his offer list. Somebody deserves a hearty Attaboy!

Aaron Paisley 7 years ago

And that's a kid who had some offers as well.

Doug Cramer 7 years ago

Could be wrong, but thought I had read that Jeff Blasko was incredibly productive in recruiting efforts the last couple of seasons.

He may be a guy the next coaching regime would want to keep around. Would also want to keep Reggie Mitchell.

With Campo's performance in developing our DBs, I wonder if he would be interested in staying around for the next regime ?

Everyone else has got to go.

I don't know how realistic it is for Harbaugh to be our next coach...but that would be SWEET ! Ticket sales and prices would immediately come unglued.

Aaron Paisley 7 years ago

Eric Keisau and Reagan are keepers. The improvements of the WR's, I'm not talking Harwell and King, in their route running and catching when they get a good ball is enough to keep him. He also has good west coast recruiting ties.

You also know what Reagan brings to the table as an OLine coach from his time here with Mangino. You also know that he's a good coordinator and needs a QB take the system run. We've also seen a couple of the young offensive line guys get some in game reps because of injury and KU has quite a few more redshirting and developing under Reagan.

I also think Buddy Wyatt's recruiting in Texas is strong enough to keep him unless the next coach finds a DLine coach that's a better recruiter in Texas.

Micky Baker 7 years ago

According to, KU picked up a recruit yesterday or the day before. He plays at East Wylie High School in Texas and is a RB/QB. I haven't seen much film on him, but he seems to be a physical kind of guy that is willing to get down and dirty. From what I've seen, he has some agility and some quickness, but he didn't look that fast. I don't know what that means, because in the bigger plays he made, he was waiting for blockers in front of him and trying not to get ahead of them. He also had a lot of plays where he lined up outside and caught some passes in traffic.

They play 11 regular season games and have a one week bye during 12 weeks. They started playing on August 22. It's a different kind of season in Texas than it is in Kansas for high schools.

Michael Lindsey 7 years ago

Matt, you might have also written that Aubrey White was recruited by Reggie Mitchell. Pretty good job of recruiting for the class of 2016 let alone 2015 when the non-interim head coaching job is vacant.

PS OU is still recruiting him and he is going to the OU/UT game at the Cotton Bowl

Walter Bridges 7 years ago

There are no Ferraris on this team. At best, maybe a Porsche 914 w/a Volkswagen engine.

Len Shaffer 7 years ago

"They get scholarship checks, they get paychecks, ..."

But enough about Texas ...

Micky Baker 7 years ago

If the other team has 3 guys on Pierson, line him up on the outside instead of close to the line. They can't put 3 guys on him on the outside. Put Harwell on the opposite side of the field and force them to make a choice. Then put another receiver(King or McKay) in the slot and two running backs for max protection. We have Dineen who has already burned the red-shirt and he's got some size to be able to block. Mann and Avery can then leak out for an outlet after a count of 1.5 or something like that. They have to sell the blocks and maybe actually make contact with a guy coming of the edge to slow them down, then pop out so the QB can dump right over the blitzer's head. We can also use a tight end who lines up in the back field after going in motion or from the start.

At the very minimum, Pierson should be tarted 8 to 10 times as a receiver per game along with some carries from motion or from him lining up in the backfield to catch a screen or have a counter option for him or one of the other backs when we run the stretch.

We're going to have to get more creative, but we're also going to have to sell the fakes and execute. It doesn't necessarily have to be Pierson getting the counter handoff either. He can be used as a decoy sometimes. I'd be okay with that, but he's going to have to be involved a lot more than he has.

That wide receiver screen that West Virginia ran where the receiver caught the ball in the middle of the field would be a good one to run a couple of times with different personnel and sets as well.

The biggest factor is getting the Oline fired up and get them to play with toughness and to not be afraid to get rough with the defenders. They need to play with attitude and emotion every time. If that Oline doesn't improve significantly it doesn't matter what we do, we're not going to win very many games.

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