‘He’s just different’: QB Jalon Daniels dazzles in season debut for Jayhawks

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels (6) and Kansas running back Devin Neal (4) congratulate each other following their win over Illinois on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. Kansas defeated Illinois, 34-23.

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.”