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.”
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.
JayhawkSlant.com 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.