Jalon Daniels’ masterful performance leads Kansas to emphatic win at Houston
photo by: Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
HOUSTON — The jubilation and exhilaration wafting through the visitors’ locker room reverberated 40 yards down a cinder block hallway and could not be contained.
Amid the shouts of “we did it!” and a wave of excitement and congratulations, an unlatched door flew open as Earl Bostick Jr. banged on it, forcing Kansas sixth-year senior left tackle to pause his celebration long enough to say he was sorry and close it.
But make no mistake: There was no apologizing after Kansas defeated Houston 48-30 on Saturday at TDECU Stadium to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2009.
“It’s crazy in there right now,” said junior quarterback Jalon Daniels, nodding toward the celebration. “It’s live in there. We’ve got a lot of people excited in there.”
Perhaps even more shocking than its win at West Virginia a week ago was Kansas’ throttling of Houston, a team that was ranked in the top 25 until last week and had long been considered a contender to represent the Group of Five schools in a New Year’s Six bowl.
The Jayhawks overcame a 14-0 deficit for the second consecutive week and withstood a 69-minute lightning delay in the second quarter to win back-to-back road games for the first time since 2007.
Kansas gained 438 yards, including 280 on the ground, and converted seven of 12 third downs. At one point, it scored touchdowns on six of seven drives, with the one that began shortly before halftime the only one that did not end with points.
Daniels was the catalyst for nearly all of it. He completed passes to 11 receivers as he went 14 for 23 for 158 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran 12 times — some intentionally, some out of necessity — for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
He became the first Kansas quarterback to run and throw for multiple touchdowns in a game since Todd Reesing did so in 2009.
“I thought Jalon was excellent today,” coach Lance Leipold said. “He made some big plays on scrambling, keeping drives alive. Saw some things. Didn’t hesitate. … It’s not eye-popping, 158 yards or something when you look at it, but the big picture of what he did for this team is really remarkable.”
Sophomore running back Devin Neal ran 14 times for 54 yards and redshirt sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. had 11 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown, and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Lawrence “LJ” Arnold had a team-high three catches for 24 yards.
In a virtual repeat of the opening quarter against West Virginia, Kansas allowed Houston to build a 14-0 lead on its first two drives. Kansas, which had possession first, went three-and-out on its first two drives — the second of which was beset by a bad snap of a wet ball that led to a loss of 7 yards on first down.
The Jayhawks first scored on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Daniels. On Houston’s next possession, an overthrown ball by Houston redshirt senior quarterback Clayton Tune ended up in the hands of Kansas senior safety Kenny Logan Jr., who returned it 26 yards and set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Hishaw.
“I just followed the quarterback’s eyes,” said Logan, who had his fourth career interception. “When the opportunity came, I just made a play.”
With the score tied at 14, Kansas drove 79 yards over nine plays, including a 27-yard gain by Daniels on an option keeper, to get to the Houston 5-yard line. That’s when the game was halted because of a lightning strike in the area, and upon resumption, junior wide receiver Luke Grimm’s 5-yard touchdown reception helped put Kansas up, 21-14.
The Jayhawks then took a 28-14 advantage into halftime after Daniels found redshirt junior running back Torry Locklin on a go route out of the backfield for a 60-yard touchdown catch.
Although Houston cut into Kansas’ lead when Ta’Zhawn Henry ran 1 yard for a touchdown 4:30 into the third quarter, the Jayhawks kept their foot on the accelerator. Daniels ran 9 yards for a touchdown on the next drive, on which Kansas converted on fourth-and-3 with a pitch to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Quentin Skinner on a reverse, to claim a 35-21 lead.
The Jayhawks then got especially creative. With redshirt senior backup quarterback Jason Bean on the field, Neal took the snap and tossed the ball to Daniels, who then ran out to his right and found redshirt sophomore fullback Jared Casey for an 8-yard touchdown catch that helped push the lead to 42-21 with 2:39 left in the third quarter.
“During fall camp, we wanted to draw up a few plays that we thought we were going to be running in the first three weeks and this week, we were able to run it,” said Daniels, who called it an “easy toss and catch.”
Houston responded with a 14-yard touchdown run by Tune, and Kansas then went 70 yards over nine plays but settled for a 22-yard field goal by redshirt junior Jacob Borcila. The teams then made a pair of field goals to close out the scoring.
Tune completed 22 of 31 passes for 272 yards, a touchdown and an interception for the Cougars, who lost a home opener for the first time since 2015. They actually outgained Kansas with 446 total yards, but they were hampered by 10 penalties for 73 yards, many at crucial moments.
Kansas will return home with three consecutive games at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium looming, and it’s not unfathomable that it could receive votes in the upcoming polls after its start.
“It feels good that we can finally have the confidence and belief that we’re actually good and we can actually compete with anybody,” said redshirt senior defensive tackle Caleb Sampson, “so we just feel good to come out with a win.”