On the opening play of the 2012 spring game at the University of Kansas, Dayne Crist dropped back to pass, surveyed the defense, and zipped a dart to senior wide receiver Kale Pick for a 14-yard gain.
Just like that, hope was rekindled in Jayhawk Nation.
Reading too much into spring games each year is something of a lesson in futility, as it puts teams in a no-win situation. If the offense rolls, the focus is on how poorly the defense played. If the defense stymies the offense, the opposite effect takes place.
The Kansas Jayhawks were in a unique position this spring, however, as anyone with even a passing interest in the program understood the offense would likely be well ahead of the defense, due to depth, experience and talent. So thin are the Jayhawks on the defensive line, for example, that during Saturday's scrimmage players in that unit dressed in powder blue alternate jerseys and manned the defensive front for both the blue and the white squads.
Reinforcements are coming, in the form of the Class of 2012, but for now they're a work in progress.
And for the most part, it showed. The Blue defense, comprised primarily of what most would describe as the "first team," did shut out the White offense, which is a positive. Sophomore defensive end/linebacker Michael Reynolds registered three sacks and was robbed of a fourth, earning him defensive MVP honors. Toben Opurum, Pat Lewandowski, Ben Heeney, Huldon Tharp and Lubbock Smith all played solidly as well.
But it was the offense that stole the show and, interestingly enough, the main attraction wasn't Crist.
Yes, the ballyhooed Notre Dame transfer played well - very well, in fact. He looked cool, calm and in control of the offense. He showed himself capable of making all the throws, and despite a handful of drops from his receivers completed 11-of-19 passes for 156 yards.
However, the spotlight belonged to sophomore running back Tony Pierson.
The fastest member of the Kansas team, Pierson is an electric threat in the backfield and one of the most dangerous home-run threats in the Big 12. Saturday, he rushed for 141 yards on just seven carries, including an astounding 88-yarder during which he simply exploded through a seam and split the entire White defense en route to the end zone.
With sophomore Brandon Bourbon still sidelined with a healing injury, sophomore Marquis Jackson - recently switched from wide receiver - got a shot at a respectable workload, and impressed as well. The stoutly-built, 5-foot-10, 220-pound athlete carried 10 times for 76 yards and scored three touchdowns, the last a 15 yard scamper around the left end with 58 seconds left in the game.
Senior wideout D.J. Beshears scored a pair of touchdowns as well, one on the ground - a 28-yard reverse - and one through the air - a six-yard reception from transfer quarterback Jake Heaps.
Heaps, who has to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer regulations, delighted the crowd on his first play from scrimmage, taking a flea-flicker from Pierson and tossing it 46 yards downfield to Kale Pick, who made a tough catch despite tight coverage from sophomore safety Victor Simmons. Pick led the Blue team with 82 yards receiving on four receptions, while Daymond Patterson - back from a season-ending injury during 2011 - caught five for 64 yards.
For the White team, freshman quarterback Michael Cummings completed 2-of-7 pass attempts for 14 yards, while junior James Sims led their attack on the ground, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 14 carries while running into the teeth of the first-team defense.
With spring football now concluded, the coaches will return to the recruiting trail and the players will finish up their semester before summer workouts begin in earnest.