Bean’s unexpected start raises questions about how KU should prepare for future games

photo by: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Kansas quarterback Jason Bean throws against Texas during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.

Austin, Texas — Quarterback Jason Bean said he didn’t know he was going to start Saturday’s game — on the road at the No. 3 team in the country, in front of an announced 102,986 fans — until 30 or 45 minutes before it started.

Kansas coach Lance Leipold said he didn’t know that starter Jalon Daniels had aggravated his back while warming up at the hotel until the team arrived at the stadium Saturday.

Bean is a sixth-year senior who had started 21 games at North Texas and Kansas combined entering Saturday. But he hadn’t gotten anything resembling the number of first-team reps he would have if KU thought there was even a chance he might start at Texas.

“We only have so much time, and we have a lot of offense and there’s a lot of ways to go through it,” Leipold said, asked if the circumstances of Daniels’ unexpected unavailability would change anything about the team’s preparation. “Just like in the NFL and things, your backup quarterback has to take a lot of mental reps and try to do that. And unfortunately when they get put in without getting all those (actual) reps, it can be tough some days.”

I had written Friday that KU would need a top-notch showing from Daniels in the passing game, the likes of which he hasn’t even attained in his three efficient starts this year, to challenge Texas. The Jayhawks did not get that. Bean went 9-for-21 with 136 yards passing and, with the exception of a deep connection to Trevor Wilson, was out of sync with his receivers on downfield throws. That’s not his fault — he was thrown into the fire. Worse, he was facing an elite defense with players like Jaylan Ford, the preseason defensive player of the year for the Big 12 Conference who led the Longhorns in tackles Saturday.

The result was an offense that, as Leipold put it with some linguistic flair, was “non-rhythmatic.” The Jayhawks, who entered Saturday as the best team at converting third downs in the nation, went 0-for-8 and couldn’t sustain a drive.

“I think part of it is me not getting to prepare all week with the ones and I think that has a little bit to do with it,” Bean said, “but other than that I think I’ve been in those moments before and I’ve executed before and I think this was just one of those days.”

Daniels began dealing with back tightness around Aug. 7, the first day of fall camp that he was absent during the portion of practice open to media. After Daniels gradually returned to action, Bean still started the season opener against Missouri State on Sept. 1 in his place. Bean declined to say at the time how far in advance of that game he learned he was going to start, but Leipold said at the time that “just by the amount of reps he’s had,” Bean “pretty much knew that it was leaning that way.”

Bean had no such inkling this time around; Daniels’ flare-up was a surprise to all. Leipold said he “was not aware of it bothering him to this extent” prior to Saturday.

“And our medical staff tried many different things to try to help him,” Leipold said. “We thought maybe we could get him out there after the game had started, and it just wasn’t happening, so by halftime, we knew that it was shutting him down for the day.”

Leipold closed his press conference by adding that he would provide an update on Daniels’ status when he has more information. He and the players who spoke postgame suggested that KU needed to move forward from the 40-14 loss and get back into rhythm.

“It’s not going to make or break our season,” Bean said. “If we dwell on this loss and sit there and sulk our heads, then it’s just going to lead into the next week.”

But even if KU follows its loss with a picture-perfect week of preparation, who’s to say Daniels doesn’t experience another last-minute setback? Even in the Missouri State week, Leipold had seemed optimistic about Daniels’ outlook four days before the game, pointing to his status as the starter on the Week 1 depth chart, to the point that many media outlets took that as an indication he would start against the Bears. Then Bean trotted out there on game day.

Those were relatively favorable circumstances in that Bean still got, as Leipold indicated, plenty of reps, and indeed Bean acquitted himself quite well that day in the win (albeit against lesser competition).

But again, if Daniels has another flare-up close to game day, then the Jayhawks are back using an unprepared Bean, and as high-quality and experienced a backup as Bean is, it’s hard to imagine any quarterback leading the offense like a well-oiled machine under such circumstances.

Without knowing more about the nature of Daniels’ back tightness, I’m not sure what KU can do to insulate itself against this sort of situation. As Leipold explained, the Jayhawks’ offense is intricate. It doesn’t lend itself to extended repetitions for multiple potential quarterbacks — nor would it even be advisable, when Daniels is healthy, to subtract from the number of reps he receives just on the off chance something goes wrong for him later on.

The pressure is on for the KU coaching staff and training staff to get a handle on Daniels’ ailment and just how much of a recurring problem it will present. As Bean pointed out, the Jayhawks were down just a touchdown Saturday until late in the third quarter. Either a fully prepared Daniels or a fully prepared Bean could have given them the chance to hang around even longer.


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