Jalon Daniels delivers as runner in KU’s conference win over BYU

photo by: Mike Gunnoe/Journal-World photo

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels leaps up over defenders to get the first down against BYU on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

The Kansas football team improved to 4-0 on the year with a 38-27 win over BYU Saturday afternoon at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. But for a brief moment, there was at least some suspense in the fourth quarter of KU’s double-digit victory.

On third-and-5 from its own 40-yard line, Kansas was in desperate need of a first down with six minutes to go while clinging to a 35-27 lead. If the Jayhawks had been stopped, they would have given the ball back to BYU — and there is no telling what would have happened.

That nightmare situation never occurred, however, because quarterback Jalon Daniels made sure of it. Daniels dropped back to pass and pump-faked over the middle. He started to load up again, but felt pressure off the edge to his right. So, Daniels sprinted out of the pocket to his left instead.

About two yards before the first-down line, BYU’s Kamden Garrett came up to make the stop. Daniels juked to the outside before lowering his shoulder to deliver the final blow to Caleb Christensen as he pushed his way over the first-down marker.

“I really thought that they had him here,” ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said on the broadcast after the play. “They really matched the patterns in the zone scheme perfectly and then when he breaks contain, I thought cornerback Kamden Garrett was going to stop him short of the first down. He had him one-on-one right there on the edge.”

“But as we talked about earlier, his dual-threat capability is what separates him and makes him one of the most exciting players in the country,” Riddick added.

Moments later, another third-down run by Daniels set up the game-sealing field goal with 1:45 left to play. BYU, which led 17-14 at the half, never stood a chance after failing to bring Daniels down on that third-down scramble.

Daniels’ legs were crucial in KU’s victory in the Big 12 opener, particularly when the team needed it the most in the second half. Daniels recorded 54 yards on nine rushing attempts, which included six carries for 38 yards over the final 30 minutes.

“I thought Jalon made some big-time running plays, some scrambling when we needed,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “We answered and did things at the times we needed to. That’s what good teams have to do if you want to be there.”

Daniels has always been a threat with his legs, but the Jayhawks utilized more designed runs with him against BYU compared to previous weeks. Daniels had just 20 total rushing yards in his two starts leading up to Saturday.

“We didn’t put much quarterback run in last week because we wanted to make sure he was healthy heading into conference play,” Leipold said. “That doesn’t mean we took anyone for granted, we just wanted to take some hits off him.”

Considering what happened last year, that approach makes a lot of sense. The Jayhawks started the season off 5-0 last fall before an injury to Daniels caused a slide once conference play got in full swing.

But Saturday showed why KU’s ceiling is so high due to Daniels’ dual-threat ability. It’s why Riddick compared Daniels to Deshaun Watson as a football player on the broadcast in the second half, though a Tyrod Taylor comp would make a lot of sense as well.

According to gameonpaper.com, Daniels averaged 0.62 EPA (expected points added) per play as a runner compared to just 0.13 EPA per play on his dropbacks. Daniels’ rushing EPA paced the team on a day where he finished with the second-most rushing attempts.

Four different players were involved in a 221-yard rushing performance for the Jayhawks. Daniels finished with just 130 yards and three touchdowns through the air, though he didn’t seem to mind the run-pass disparity after the game.

“Honestly as long as we win the game, it doesn’t really matter what the statistics are,” Daniels said. “If we are able to have one more point than them to get that win, that’s all that matters.”


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