While Sims was KU’s leading rusher last year with 727 yards, the running game appears to be in great hands thus far with Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox shining bright in KU’s 31-17 season-opening victory over South Dakota State on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Pierson and Cox became the first two Jayhawks to rush for 100 or more yards in a game since Brandon McAnderson and Jake Sharp did so in the season opener against Central Michigan in 2007.
Pierson, who started the game, rushed for a career-high 124 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, while Cox gained 121 yards with one touchdown on 16 carries in his KU debut.
The dynamic duo impressed head coach Charlie Weis and their teammates.
"I think that we're deep in talent at running back; trying to find those guys the ball,” Weis said. “I know that it was pretty close to even as far as (their) carries go. They were both productive in the game, allowing us to really control the field possession.”
On a night when quarterback Dayne Crist was inconsistent (17-36 for 169 yards and one TD), Cox and Pierson indeed helped control the game and also break loose at crucial times. Pierson’s 47-yard touchdown run with 10:22 in the third quarter gave KU some breathing room with a 17-7 lead, while Cox broke free for a 39-yard run with over eight minutes in the fourth quarter with KU up just 24-17. He later scored on a three-yard run later in the drive to put KU up 14 and help seal the game at the 5:36 mark.
“(Cox and Pierson) both run incredibly hard,” Crist said. “We expect that out of them each week. They did a great job tonight.
"All the running backs in conjunction with the offensive line really carried the game,” Crist added. "They really got us through some lulls throughout the course of the game.”
Crist was especially impressed by Pierson’s dazzling 47-yard touchdown run.
“He never ceases to amaze me,” Crist said.
Pierson, a sophomore from East St. Louis, Ill., and Cox, a junior college transfer from the College of the Siskiyous in California, were just happy to do their role.
“Me, Taylor and the rest of the running back crew (Brandon Bourbon also rushed for 17 yards) wanted to come in and play with confidence,” Pierson said. “I wanted to play hard and win the game."
"Coming into the game I wanted to run hard just like I was doing in practice all week,” Cox added. “I have to give credit to the offensive line and my tight ends. I felt like they kind of made it easy for me."
With Sims sidelined for two more games against Rice and TCU, stopping Pierson and Cox won’t be an easy task for the Owls and Horned Frogs ... and all other opponents the Jayhawks face this season.