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Sims, Heaps lead Kansas past South Dakota 31-14

LAWRENCE (AP) — For the first time in his coaching life, Charlie Weis saw one of his running backs might be open for a touchdown pass and thought, in effect, "Oh, no."

Coaching a Kansas team that hadn't thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver in more than a year, Weis was ready for the embarrassing streak that everybody kept talking about to end. And so was quarterback Jake Heaps. He rifled a perfectly thrown 6-yard pass to wide receiver Justin McKay, who caught it for a touchdown Saturday night in the Jayhawks' 31-14 victory over South Dakota.

"I thought he was going to throw the ball into the flat to Tony (Pierson) and I said, 'Just throw it to Justin, please, and get this over with,'" Weis recalled with a grin.

James Sims scored twice and Heaps passed for 110 yards and one TD in his much-anticipated debut as the Jayhawks won for the first time in a year after a miserable 1-11 season of 2012.

McKay agreed everybody was aware of the wide receiver/TD drought, which stretched back 17 games to Oct. 22, 2011.

"We were very aware of it," McKay said, a bit irritably. "We hear it from students, fans, everybody. They tell us. But we got it off the board so it's nothing to worry about any more."

Heaps' yardage total may not look impressive. But he displayed a strong arm and a quick release in his first action since transferring from BYU, where he smashed most freshman passing records, and sitting out last season.

He was 10 for 20 and several of his misses probably could have been caught.

"He had a couple of drops and he had a couple of throwaways," said Weis. "I think you won't have to worry about the wide receivers scoring any touchdowns."

The Jayhawks (1-0) rushed for 280 yards against the lower-division Coyotes (1-1) with Sims going 94 yards on 16 carries.

Josh Vander Maten was 8 for 18 for 67 yards and one touchdown for South Dakota. He also had 78 of the South Dakota's 219 yards rushing.

"They did a nice job of just taking us and stretching us out and got to the perimeter a lot of times," said South Dakota coach Joe Glenn. "We weren't good enough to hold them off."

Sims, who lead Big 12 runners in rushing in conference games last year, scored on a one-yard run in the second quarter and a six-yard burst around left end in the third. Darrian Miller had 72 yards on 14 carries, including two 17-yard scampers in the 71-yard touchdown drive that put Kansas ahead 21-7 in the third quarter.

At kickoff, it was a sweltering 97 degrees in this rain-starved corner of the Midwest. The Coyotes, looking to snap a 15-game road losing streak, took a 7-0 lead on Vander Maten's 2-yard TD pass to Drew Potter, who sneaked out of the backfield unnoticed and was all by himself in the end zone. Jordan Roberts picked up 14 yards on a counter play and then Vander Maten ran 13 yards to the 2.

Heaps, seeing his first action since Nov. 19, 2011, made his first long connection when he rifled a 25-yard pass to Tony Pierson in the second quarter.

"It felt great to step out there," said Heaps. "A lot of mixed emotions. There was a lot of work that went into it. I was really anxious to go out there and play. There was adrenaline running but I wasn't nervous."

He was happy to help his new team end its humiliating wide receiver TD drought.

"We talked about that all summer long and we really worked hard as a receiving corps and quarterbacks and tight ends," he said. "We got a touchdown and that was an exciting moment for Justin and I and the entire receiving corps."

Keon Stowers, intercepted Vander Maten's pass late in the second quarter and, picking up blocks, the 298-pounder rumbled 42 yards into the end zone with the first interception by a Jayhawk defensive lineman in 45 games. But a penalty for blocking in the back brought the ball back and moments later, Sims' fumble was recovered by South Dakota's Aaron Swift on the 2.

But the Coyotes failed to pick up a first down and a line drive punt out of their end zone was returned 29 to the 9 by Connor Embree. One play later, Heaps drilled a 5-yard bullet to McKay in the end zone for the Jayhawks' first scoring pass to a wide receiver in 17 games.

The Jayhawks' third TD came on a 12-play, 71-yard drive that was entirely on the ground. Sims went around left end for a 21-7 Kansas lead with 7:34 left in the third.

Vander Maten kept a drive alive with a 37-yard third-down pass to Tyson Graham Jr., and then capped the drive with a 9-yard run. Kansas' Brandon Bourbon scored on an 8-yard run with about 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter.