For months, Kansas fans couldn’t wait to sample what new offensive coordinator John Reagan had in store for them, as he made his triumphant return to the program and for a quarter Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, fans might have felt it was 2008 all over again. The other three quarters tempered the excitement back just a little bit, but all in all, it was a win for the Jayhawks as they took down Southeast Missouri State 34-28.
Through one quarter though, Kansas (1-0) made noise and turned heads as the new offense whistled out to a 24-0 lead, thanks to two touchdown passes from quarterback Montell Cozart to wide receiver Nick Harwell, who made his much anticipated Kansas debut. However, a furious Redhawks rally of 21 unanswered points to end the game and put a scare into what was left of the crowd of 36,574 dampened the excitement of the beginning. Though, in the final analysis, it’s a win and those have been hard to come by the past few years and must not be overlooked.
“I addressed the negatives as well as the positives, but the bottom line is you’re 1-0,” head coach Charlie Weis said. “Now you can go off and everyone can tell you that you just beat SEMO and you’re no good. And you can do it one of two ways, you can either sulk or enjoy a win, because the wins, it isn’t like we have a hundred of them in the last few years. Enjoy the win, and let’s get ready to go down to Durham and play Duke, because the next major hurdle is we haven’t won on the road here in a long time.”
Despite, the close final score the Jayhawks offense gave fans an opportunity to see what is possible, as Cozart tallied 196 yards and three touchdown passes on 12 of 24 completions. Cozart showed increased maturity from a year ago and a good grasp on the new offense. He also kept several plays alive with his legs, a dynamic that has been missing for most if not all of the Weis era at Kansas.
“Well in the first half especially, he was 8-of-11,” Weis said. “Two pin-point throws, needle passes, thread-the-needle passes down in the red-zone to Nick (Harwell). He hit Tony down on the wheel route that ends up going for six in the second half. I think that in the second half, it seems like we were a step off on a lot of those throws. They were up on us so much that a lot of those throws ended up being deeper throws instead of short throws and a lot of close reads. Just like we talked about, where his athleticism will put us in position in the passing game to make plays because he bailed out of there sometimes and put himself in position where he can go and make the throw.”
As a team, Kansas rushed 49 times for 261 yards. JUCO transfer DeAndre Mann ran for 121 yards on 15 carries, while true freshman Corey Avery scored one and carried the ball 19 times for 92 yards. Tony Pierson looked healthy again and fast as ever, as recorded 95 yards receiving on four receptions, with a 67-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. He also ran the ball three times for 44 yards. The 457 yards of total offense was something that can be built upon.
“There are definitely some learning points for me, personally, and for the team as a whole,” Cozart said. “It was good getting the season underway and getting it started.”
Though SEMO (0-1) would rally in the final quarter after trailing 34-7, Kansas is 1-0 and feels like they can build on a win, whereas in the past it may not have been as convincing. They’ll have their chance against a feisty Blue Devils team that won 10 games a year ago.