LAWRENCE — Tony Pierson took the handoff from Dayne Crist deep in the backfield, started off toward his right and then made a subtle move back to his left.
Just as a hole big enough for Charlie Weis to run through opened up.
Pierson pranced through it and then out-ran a pair of safeties 88 yards for a touchdown, the highlight of a big afternoon for the sophomore running back. He finished with 141 yards on only seven carries to steal the spotlight from Crist’s debut in the Kansas spring game.
Pierson and Crist led the blue team, made up primarily of first-team players, to a 45-0 win over the white team on a sunny afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
“My line had a good block, I saw a crease and I took off,” said Pierson, who was voted the game’s offensive MVP and was one of two players who spoke to the media after the game.
Crist was 11 of 19 for 156 yards in the most-anticipated spring debut by a Kansas player in years. He was recruited by Weis to Notre Dame, but injuries set him back and Weis was eventually fired. Crist decided to join his old coach at Kansas after graduating at the semester.
He showed why he was such a highly touted high school quarterback on the opening drive, hitting Kale Pick for 14 yards and Pierson for 17 more. His only two incompletions on the series came when Pierson and Daymond Patterson dropped a couple of easy passes.
Crist was even sharper on the blue team’s second possession, hitting Patterson for 27 yards and then again for 10 more. That moved his unit into scoring position, and D.J. Beshears took a reverse 28 yards for the first touchdown of the game.
Beshears later caught a 6-yard touchdown pass.
“He can make every throw, and he didn’t look too rusty to me,” Weis said of his top quarterback. “I thought he slung it around pretty good. He knows how to run the offense, he knows the operation. He gets us out of trouble when it’s a bad call. I was generally pleased.”
Another transfer, former BYU quarterback Jake Heaps, finished 7 of 10 for 106 yards and a touchdown with the blue team. Unlike Crist, Heaps will have to sit out next season before he’s eligible to play — presumably as the replacement for Crist, who will have graduated.
Former wide receiver Marquis Jackson had a promising showing at running back, a position he played in high school. He wound up carrying 10 times for 76 yards and three touchdowns.
“To be honest with you, he was down pretty far on the depth chart at wide receiver,” Weis said. “I sat down and talked to him and said, ‘Can you play running back?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I was a running back in high school.’ And I said, ‘Good. You’re a running back again.’”
Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay suited up for the game but didn’t catch a pass.
McCay is awaiting the decision from the NCAA on his appeal for a hardship waiver that would allow him to play this season. Otherwise, the former top recruit from suburban Kansas City will have to sit out this season under normal NCAA transfers guidelines.
There were a few quirks in the spring game.
The clock ran the entire time, except for the final 2 minutes of each half, and defensive linemen and specialists played for both teams — they wore light blue jerseys.
The defense showed many of the same holes that developed last season under Turner Gill, whose firing paved the way for Weis to take over another college program.
Bradley McDougald dropped an easy interception — and likely touchdown return — early in the game. Massive holes opened up for running backs on both sides, and a decent offensive line had its way with a defensive front that could change drastically by the time fall camp opens up.
Weis has promised that several “reinforcements” are on the way.
Of course, one of the holes that opened up Saturday wound up being the one that Pierson hit. By the time he streaked into the end zone, an estimated crowd of 15,000 that filed into Memorial Stadium was on its feet and cheering.
Even Weis seemed to be somewhat impressed.
“I told him when the hole is that big he’d better be able to score a touchdown, but I also told him there aren’t many guys who can run 88 yards,” Weis said. “Tony is dangerous in space, and that’s pretty obvious when you saw him. When he’s in space, he’s a problem.”
Kansas spring game
Black 45, White 0
Black 10 7 14 14 — 45
White 0 0 0 0 — 0
B — Doherty 30 field goal, 10:22.
B — Beshears 28 run (Doherty kick), 3:52.
B — Beshears 6 pass from Heaps (Doherty kick), 12:47.
B — Jackson 7 run (Doherty kick),9:06.
B — Pierson 88 run (Doherty kick), 3:45.
B — Jackson 3 run (Doherty kick), 10:05.
B — Jackson 15 run (Doherty kick), :58.
First Downs 3 24
Total Offensive Yds. 45 268
Passing Yds. 0 12
Rushing Yds. 45 256
Penalties-Yds. 0-0 1-10
Turnovers 0 0
Punts-Avg. 7-40.3 2-37.0
3rd-Down Cons. 1-9 3-6
4th-Down Cons. 0-1 0-0
RUSHING — T. Pierson 7-141.
PASSING — D. Crist 11-19-0-156.
RECEIVING — K. Pick 4-82.