Leipold expects both Bean and Ballard to be available again Saturday
photo by: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Only one Kansas quarterback had practiced enough last week that the coaching staff felt confident starting him in the Sunflower Showdown.
KU coach Lance Leipold said postgame Saturday — and reiterated in his press conference Monday — that even though both quarterbacks were cleared to play, freshman Cole Ballard got the start because super-senior Jason Bean, dealing with a head injury, hadn’t gotten sufficient reps in the week ahead of the rivalry game.
“He needed to practice more,” Leipold said Monday. “Yeah. That’s probably the best way to say it right now. For us to be comfortable, for him to be comfortable, as he was getting confidence to do things, I’ll just leave it that that’s probably the best way to say it.”
It should be an encouraging sign for Bean’s availability at Cincinnati this weekend, then, that Leipold said he practiced Monday. Last week, Bean did not participate in the first day of practice.
The KU coach stopped short of saying that Bean would start against the Bearcats, though.
“We’ll continue to make our observations as we go,” Leipold said. “I think both guys should be ready and able to play.”
Ballard became the third quarterback to start for KU this season when he took the field against Kansas State. Bean started the season opener due to preseason starter Jalon Daniels’ recurring back tightness, Daniels assumed the starting role again for three games prior to a back flare-up and then Bean took over for six more until he suffered the head injury against Texas Tech on Nov. 11.
Leipold specified that “both guys” refers to specifically Ballard and Bean for this week.
He did, after a pregnant pause, deadpan a joke about playing Daniels and still being able to redshirt him. Any discussion, flippant or serious, about redshirting Daniels should be moot after this week, as a player can play in up to four games and still take a redshirt. Leipold frequently said throughout the season that shutting down and redshirting Daniels was never discussed, but if Daniels does not play against Cincinnati, even if he returns for KU’s bowl game, he can preserve a year of eligibility.
Daniels, who is currently a junior, confirmed last week in a social media video and accompanying statement that he will stay at Kansas for the 2024 season. He dressed and served as a team captain on Saturday.
As for Ballard, who initially walked on at KU but received a scholarship earlier this fall, redshirting is not necessarily assured, since he has already played in four games — a mop-up series against Missouri State, a fleeting appearance when Bean took a hit to his leg at Iowa State, the relief duty against Texas Tech and the start against Kansas State. Leipold had previously said that the coaches had considered putting in Ben Easters against Iowa State with a redshirt for Ballard in mind.
Now, KU will need Ballard not to see the field for the remainder of the year in order for him to retain four years of eligibility. The Jayhawks have quarterbacks committed for the 2024 and 2025 classes (Isaiah Marshall and David McComb, respectively).
For now, Ballard has been receiving what Leipold referred to as “on-the-job training.” He looked poised for much of Saturday’s start but threw a pair of interceptions in the second half that hampered the Jayhawks’ chances of pulling off the win. Leipold said he needs to work on getting the ball out quicker — even on plays that ended in completions — but that “never once did he have that look in his eye that this moment was too big for him.”
Bean is 92-for-154 passing this season with 1,431 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, and has 169 yards and a touchdown as a runner. He can add to those stats if he gets the start Saturday in his final collegiate regular-season game.