Matt Tait: In opening night win, Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels proved worthy of confidence he flashed in the offseason

Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels (6) watches a replay on the video board during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.

One of the biggest questions I had for the Kansas football coaches heading into the first week of the 2022 season was what Jalon Daniels’ ability to hold off Jason Bean in the QB race during camp did for their view of the junior starter.

Bean, you might’ve heard, had a whale of a camp, showing the type of growth, command and maturity within KU’s offense that, many years, would have made him an easy choice to be QB1.

Head coach Lance Leipold, offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki and even a couple KU players said the month of August featured Bean playing his best football as a Jayhawk.

Yet, when the month ended, the depth chart at the game’s most important position showed Daniels on top with Bean behind him, finishing camp just the way it started.

“That’s what you want,” Leipold said. “I understand where that can be some days (for Bean), and that’s hard. That can be hard for a lot of guys to go out there because you pretty much know where it’s heading unless something happens unexpectedly. And that’s tough to stay locked in.”

Bean had no problem doing it, and Daniels thrived because of it. Kotelnicki said Daniels’ ability to elevate his game to stay ahead of Bean made him more confident in what Daniels could do.Truth be told, Kotelnicki actually feels pretty darn good about both KU QBs. But seeing the way Daniels handled that competition and how he got better as a result of it made Kotelnicki believe even stronger that Daniels could handle everything that goes along with being this team’s starter.

Daniels grew, too.

Rather than coasting because he knew he was the man and thought no one could touch him, Daniels understood that he had to keep showing up and putting his best football on film each day.

The coaches were watching, evaluating and critiquing everything. They expected Daniels to be their starter, but they would not have put him out there with the first-team offense on Friday night if he wasn’t deserving or if someone else looked better.

All offseason, Daniels was the guy. Reporters asked about him. Coaches talked about him. Fans got excited about him. And he took all of that to the field with him on Friday night.

He was the exact player that everyone expected to see. Including him. And especially his teammates.

“Watching his progression from last year to this year, you know (you’ve found) someone special when, even in those types of ballgames, he’s finding details that he’s beating himself up about,” sophomore running back Devin Neal said after Friday’s 56-10 win over Tennessee Tech. “That’s just the type of guy he is. He strives for perfection every time he steps on the football field.”

Neal’s comments came after he was asked to name his favorite thing about Daniels’ game on Friday night. Daniels was 15-for-18 through the air for 189 yards and a touchdown while leading the type of offensive onslaught not normally seen from the Jayhawks. And yet, even in the glow of victory, KU’s quarterback still groused about the couple of mistakes he made.

“Like Coach Z (quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski) always says, if you want to be able to go to a bowl game, it’s the little things that count,” Daniels said after the win, his second in 10 career starts to date.

Make no mistake about it; these guys want to go to a bowl game. And they believe it’s possible. It’s the rest of the schedule — starting with Saturday’s game at West Virginia — and not a mismatch opener that will determine whether that’s actually possible.

But if Daniels truly is the quarterback he now has shown to be during the last four games he has started, KU just might have a chance.

After all, he plays the game’s most important position and Kansas fans have been chasing ghosts for years in search of someone worthy of following the great Todd Reesing.

Daniels is no Reesing. Far from it, in fact. But the two do have one key thing in common. Extreme confidence.

Daniels took that confidence to the field with him on Friday night in the season opener and helped throw one heck of a party.

Now let’s see if he can do it again.


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