Opinion: Tony Pierson represents hope for KU football

Kansas running back Tony Pierson makes a move against the Iowa State defense during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 at Memorial Stadium.

Box score

KU-Iowa State

Rehashing all the bad plays that led to the home team having an awful Saturday night in Memorial Stadium in front of 41,608 witnesses at the beginning and a fraction of that at the end would take too long.

So let’s take a look at the good plays. All three of them. All by the same guy, No. 3 Tony Pierson, a sophomore running back from St. Louis. If not for Pierson’s speed, hustle and versatility, the score would have been far worse than Iowa State 51, Kansas 23.

Pierson scored more than half the team’s points by running for a 55-yard touchdown and receiving a 37-yard TD from senior quarterback Dayne Crist.

But it was the tackle Pierson made to save two points that made teammates and coaches most proud of the team’s fastest player.

Pierson had just found an opening in the middle of the defense and caught one of many accurate Crist deliveries and took it into the end zone to cut Iowa State’s lead to 41-23 with 14:19 left in the fourth quarter.

On the two-point conversion attempt, Cummings threw a pass intercepted a few yards in front of the end zone by Cyclones cornerback Jacques Washington, who had nothing in front of him but a grassy path to the end zone for two points.

“They’re about ready to score two, and it just tells you a lot about Tony,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. “Most people wouldn’t be hustling the way he was hustling. Remember, he was all the way in the end zone, and he has to catch that guy all the way down at the other end of the field. That’s a heck of a hustle play right there. I didn’t congratulate him on his touchdown. I congratulated him on that play because that says a lot about Tony.”

Crist, whose night was sabotaged by a pair of third-down drops from junior receiver Chris Omigie, reiterated what he had said about Pierson in the past.

“Nothing Tony Pierson does surprises me,” Crist said. “Nothing. He’s an exceptional athlete, and he’s got such God-given ability. And he doesn’t rest on that. He’s constantly working on getting better, and he’s got a great football IQ. That just shows the heart he has more than anything because we all know about his physical tools.”

James Sims is the team’s best all-around running back and is complemented beautifully by the big-play Pierson, who popped runs of 69 and 49 yards a week earlier against Texas Tech en route to a 202-yard rushing day. On a team that has not had a touchdown reception from a wide receiver 11 games into the season, Pierson easily is the most dangerous deep threat.

“Just the heart and the mental fortitude he showed on a play that really could have gone either way just speaks volume about Tony and the type of guy he is,” Crist said of Pierson’s tackle. “We need more guys like Tony Pierson.”

Bingo. More guys who can outrun Big 12 players. More guys who are tough enough to take verbal challenges in practice and realize they are delivered to make them better. More electric playmakers on both sides of the ball. He represents hope.

What, Weis was asked, gives him hope? Fair question, given he’s coaching a 1-10 team in a league that doesn’t look as if it will get weaker any time soon.

“I think we have as good, if not the best running backs in the Big 12,” Weis said. “It’s a good place to start. It’s James. It’s Tony. It’s Taylor (Cox). It’s Brandon (Bourbon). And they’re all back. Think about that for a second. At times we were inefficient in the pass game and we had to morph into this run-first team. You’re developing your current guys and bringing in new players and you’re going to add a complementary passing game to that running game, and now you’ve got something going. Now you’ve got a lot more ways of winning.”

Other than Pierson and tight end Jimmay Mundine, a skilled pass-catcher determined to become a better blocker, quarterback-in-waiting Jake Heaps doesn’t figure to have many open targets from which to choose. That’s why the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, the first day recruiting visits are allowed, two of the Weis’ four scheduled appointments are with wide receivers. He needs to land them. Pierson can do it all, but he can’t do everything.