‘He’s just different’: QB Jalon Daniels dazzles in season debut for Jayhawks
photo by: Nick Krug
In truth, the play that ranked No. 4 on SportsCenter’s top-10 list following KU’s 34-23 victory over Illinois on Friday night wouldn’t have even been possible in recent years.
Kansas was leading 21-7 with 41 seconds to go before halftime after Illinois scored for the first time all night. The Jayhawks were getting the ball back to start the second half, and could have easily opted to run out the clock.
Head coach Lance Leipold admitted as much after the game.
“It used to be, 40 seconds left, we’ve got a lead, they’re kicking off, let’s run the ball or take a knee and let’s go in, we’re getting it to the second half,” Leipold said. “(Offensive coordinator) Andy (Kotelnicki) said let’s run one and see what happens and if we get a first down, let’s get aggressive.”
Running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. started the drive off with a quick 10-yard run before being pushed out of bounds. And that’s when the Jayhawks (2-0) took their shot.
Quarterback Jalon Daniels, who made his season debut after missing the opener due to a back injury, faced pressure from the Illinois defensive line as soon as he dropped back. Daniels was forced to his right, nearly stumbling on his first steps as he left the pocket.
While rolling to his right, Daniels noticed receiver Luke Grimm getting behind an Illinois defensive back and took a chance. He launched the ball up for grabs, and Grimm came down with it for a 48-yard connection.
“When I escaped, I saw that I had three levels of receivers,” Daniels said. “The safety was trying to play (Quentin Skinner), but he saw Luke as soon as I pointed him upfield. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the first time I took a one-on-one decision with Luke Grimm. I have all the faith in that guy to be able to make the play no matter who is guarding him.”
#4 on @SportsCenter tonight
Moments later, Hishaw capped off the quick scoring drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give Kansas a 28-7 lead at the break. The aggressive decision ultimately paid off, and the game was really never in doubt following that sequence.
“Since Coach Leipold first got here, I feel like he has a tremendous amount of faith in the offense,” Daniels said. “When we are all on the field, I feel like he has the faith in us to be able to execute our jobs.”
But that’s also the level of confidence this offense has when Daniels is back under center. Daniels dazzled in his season debut, finishing 14-for-19 for 189 yards and two touchdowns while adding 41 yards on eight rushing attempts.
“It meant everything (to have him back),” running back Devin Neal said. “He’s our leader, he’s our guy.”
While veteran quarterback Jason Bean performed admirably in the opener, Daniels raises the ceiling of KU’s offense due to his ability to make plays when things break down.
The best example of this occurred on Kansas’ fourth drive of the game, when the team faced a potential three-and-out deep in its own territory. On third down, Daniels dropped back to pass and was immediately staring down an Illinois blitzer. Daniels stopped in his tracks from the end zone to avoid the sack before rolling to his left.
While on the run to his left, Daniels found Lawrence Arnold and fired a ball that only he could get to in the crease of the Illinois defense. The two linked up for a 25-yard connection on a drive that eventually set up a five-yard touchdown run for Neal, giving KU a 21-0 advantage.
“That’s a third-down play,” Daniels said. “If we don’t convert that play right there, the defense is back on the field. I feel like when it comes to being able to make those plays, I feel like we have to as an offense.”
Just some pure JD6 magic
Daniels displayed his improvisational skills on many third downs to keep KU’s offense on the field in the win. On the same drive that started deep in Kansas territory, Daniels picked up a first down on a third-down speed option, where he faked everyone on a pitch attempt to pick up 12 yards by running upfield.
The Jayhawks’ second offensive possession began with Daniels scrambling for 15 yards on a third-and-9. As a team, Kansas went 9-for-15 on third downs and converted on its first five such plays of the game.
“If you look in the past years of our offense with Coach K, that’s a big emphasis for us,” Daniels said. “We worked hard on our third-down plays this week, let’s say that.”
While some of those third-down conversions are certainly planned, many of them are a credit to Daniels finding a way to make a play. And his performance in those spots was a big reason why the game got so lopsided early.
According to gameonpaper.com, a stats website, the Jayhawks averaged 0.21 EPA (expected points added) per dropback and ranked in the 69th percentile when they dropped back to pass. Illinois, for comparison, ranked in the 25th percentile with an average of -0.22 EPA/dropback.
Daniels added a 32% win probability in this game on dropbacks alone, whereas Luke Altmyer posted a -5% WPA on his dropbacks for Illinois. The Jayhawks simply had the advantage at quarterback in Week 2, and it showed.
With No. 6 back in the fold, that could be the case for most games this season.
“He’s just different,” Kansas defensive lineman Jereme Robinson said. “He’s been here and he’s put in the work. He knows what he’s doing, and I’m just glad he’s here.”