KU starts hot, coasts to 34-23 win over Illinois

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas running back Devin Neal (4) eyes a defenders as he cuts up the field during the first quarter on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023 at Memorial Stadium.

With starting quarterback Jalon Daniels back in the fold, the Kansas football team cruised to a 34-23 victory over Illinois on Friday night at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. The Jayhawks have now started 2-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

Daniels earned the start after missing the season opener due to injury, but Lance Leipold chose to trot out both Daniels and Jason Bean for the first play of the game in Week 2.

After that, it was the Daniels show. And it certainly was worth the price of admission for all the fans who attended with their black shirts to match the all-black Kansas uniforms.

The Jayhawks scored on their first two possessions of the game. The first drive ended with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Daniels to Torry Locklin on a slot fade. Daniels delivered a 5-yard TD pass to Jared Casey for the second scoring drive. Both trips took a combined 23 plays, as Kansas began to wear down the Illinois defense.

While it might have appeared easy at first, Daniels displayed his ability to make something out of nothing when Illinois started to put more pressure on him. On a third down in the second quarter, Daniels evaded a blitzer before rolling to his left and finding Arnold for a gain of 25. Running back Devin Neal punctuated the 11-play scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, Kansas became the third team in the last 20 seasons to record three double-digit play drives of 80-plus yards that ended with a touchdown in the first half of a game, joining Texas Tech in 2013 and Florida State in 2009.

But the biggest highlight came at the end of the first half, when Kansas needed less than a minute to answer Illinois’ first score of the night. After being forced out of the pocket to his right, Daniels launched a 48-yard bomb to Luke Grimm, who bested the Illinois defensive back in a one-on-one battle for the ball.