Career-best performance by Jalon Daniels spurs Kansas to home win against Duke
Jalon Daniels stood near the end zone staring at his right hand. The pinky unfurled first, then the ring finger, the middle and the index.
One. Two. Three. Four.
He was counting touchdown passes, but he might as well have been counting victories.
Kansas’ junior quarterback threw for career highs of 324 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday in a 35-27 win against Duke in front of a sellout crowd at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Daniels completed 19 of his 23 passes and ran 11 times for a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown as the Jayhawks improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2009.
“It’s good to see that the amount of preparation that we put in, it’s good to see that it’s paid off,” Daniels said.
Redshirt sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw Jr. ran 10 times for 61 yards and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass, and Kansas withstood a late surge from Duke over the final five minutes to thrill the 47,233 fans, many of whom finally had a reason to stay in their seats.
Kansas generated 528 yards, including 204 on the ground and 329 by halftime. It held a 21-13 lead by the end of the second quarter and took a 15-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Duke, which fell to 3-1, went 70 yards in a penalty-assisted seven plays to score a touchdown with 2:40 remaining. The Jayhawks merely needed to run through the Blue Devils’ three timeouts to end it, but they went three-and-out and gave their opponent the ball at its 5-yard line with 2:15 remaining for a chance to tie it.
That didn’t happen, with sophomore quarterback Riley Leonard’s fourth-and-7 pass from Kansas’ 31-yard line falling short of its intended receiver.
“That’s college football today,” said coach Lance Leipold. “You can’t take a breath because somebody’s got the ability to make something happen quickly.”
Unlike in recent weeks, when the Jayhawks started slow on the road and fell behind by 14 points, they didn’t have a problem moving the ball or stopping their opponent. Their attempt to score on the first possession was halted by a failed fourth-and-goal conversion from the 1-yard line when sophomore running back Devin Neal’s lunge for the goal line was ruled short.
But Daniels got them going on their next drive by connecting with redshirt sophomore tight end Trevor Kardell on a 6-yard touchdown pass, then throwing another to the left flat to Hishaw, who rumbled 73 yards into the end zone early in the second quarter.
Daniels threw a third touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Luke Grimm on a back-shoulder fade with 1:04 to go in the second quarter and finished the half having completed 11 of 12 passes for 200 yards.
With 8:25 left in the third quarter, Daniels connected with redshirt sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Arnold on a 36-yard strike, which Arnold snagged at his knees to help put Kansas up 28-13. Then Daniels unleashed his four-finger celebration.
And on the next drive, with the Jayhawks stalled after a false start on fourth-and-2 from just inside opponent territory, Daniels did something unexpected. He dropped a pooch punt at Duke’s 8-yard line that was downed by Arnold.
“He can run it. He can throw it. He can probably catch it. He can punt it,” Grimm said. “You saw him punt it, so I don’t know if there’s anything he can’t do at this point.”
Daniels also set another first before the end of the third quarter, though it was one he wanted to avoid. He was dropped by sophomore cornerback Joshua Pickett on a corner blitz for a 4-yard loss, marking the first time he was sacked this season.
That it came against Duke wasn’t a surprise. The Blue Devils’ first-year coach Mike Elko, a longtime defensive coordinator, entered with a stout defense that had been forcing 1.7 turnovers a game and recovered a Football Bowl Subdivision-high six fumbles — a total it increased to seven when it fell on one by Neal in the first quarter.
Duke gained 463 yards, including 139 on the ground, as Leonard completed 24 of 35 passes for 324 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt junior running back Jaylen Coleman ran 5 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, classmate Jordan Waters ran 3 for one in the fourth and senior wide receiver Jalon Calhoun caught a 27-yard touchdown pass for Duke with 2:40 remaining. Redshirt junior Charlie Ham netted a pair of field goals to aid in the scoring.
But the Blue Devils, even aided by the Jayhawks’ seven penalties for 83 yards, couldn’t recover late. After their failed fourth-down conversion, Daniels ended the game with a pair of kneel-downs at midfield — and it was only fitting for him to finish the fourth win with the ball in his hands.
“I think he’s done a heck of a job getting a lot of people to take notice and take this program seriously,” Leipold said. “He’s a big component of that.”