LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The famous coach who's putting his considerable prestige on the line by coming to Kansas saw more than a simple win in Saturday night's 31-17 victory over South Dakota State.
"The effort was good. The performance had highs and lows," said Charlie Weis. "But as a coach, this is utopia. It really is. Because the guys are going to go out and enjoy themselves tonight. It's been a while. But on the flip side, there'll be so many things on the tape where you say, "What are we doing? What are we doing?' And that'll be true across the board."
Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox each rushed for more than 100 yards and Dayne Crist connected with former Notre Dame teammate Mike Ragone on a short touchdown pass to fuel the Jayhawks to victory in the opener of the much-anticipated Weis era.
Weis, a winner of three Super Bowls as a key assistant coach at New England and a former head coach at Notre Dame, is taking over a program that won only five games the previous two seasons under Turner Gill.
Weis started the Kansas chapter of his coaching career with a win, but a jolt. In the first quarter, Zach Zenner gave South Dakota State a 7-0 lead with a school-record 99-yard run.
Weis had turned to his offensive plays to map out a strategy for the short field he figured they would soon have.
"How do you score on a 99-yard run?" Weis said. "That's what I wanted to know."
Crist, who was recruited to Notre Dame by Weis and played for him until Weis was fired in 2009, was 17 for 36 for 169 yards, with one TD and one interception. Pierson rushed for 124 yards and scored on runs of 3 and 47 yards while Cox tallied 125 yards on 16 carries and scored on a 3-yard jaunt.
"I'm very disappointed with how I played," said Crist, who got his degree at Notre Dame last December and will have one year of eligibility at Kansas. "I left a ton of throws out on the field. But more than anything, I'm just happy with the win."
The Jayhawks held a 24-7 lead with 5:29 left in the third after Crist tossed a 2-yard TD pass to tight end Ragone. But the Jackrabbits scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter on Austin Sumner's 22-yard scoring pass to Tyler Kool and Justin Syrovatka's 25-yard field goal.
In the opening quarter, Ben Heeney downed a punt on the South Dakota State 1, putting huge pressure on the Jackrabbit offense. But Zenner, who won the starting running back job in spring training, popped through a big hole up the middle, brushed off one would-be tackler and unfurled the longest run in South Dakota State's 115-year football history. Safety Bradley McDougald, who would later grab two of Kansas' four interceptions, gave chase but stayed about 5 yards behind the 215-pound Zenner as they sprinted down the field.
"We've been working on a lot of the same running plays for the last few weeks," said Zenner. "We thought that one would maybe have a chance to hit big and it did."