Kansas keeps winning, tops Duke to move to 4-0

LAWRENCE, Kansas — As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Kansas students poured onto the field to join their triumphant football team Saturday afternoon.

It is hard to act like you’ve been there before when it has been *this* long since Kansas football has been a winning program.

Behind quarterback Jalon Daniels, Kansas beat Duke 35-27 on Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd to move to 4-0 for the first time since 2009.

Daniels put together another outstanding performance, with 407 yards and five touchdowns. His 3-yard touchdown run with 4:42 left in the game ended up being the difference. Afterward, Daniels said though the nation has delighted in watching a “basketball school” gain prominence in football, the early results have come as expected inside the locker room.

“I wouldn’t say that I would be surprised,” Daniels said. “I would definitely say that it’s good to know that the amount of preparation that we put in, it’s good to see that it’s paying off.”

To put into perspective just how improbable it is for Kansas to be 4-0 right now, since 2010 Kansas has won no more than three games in any season. The futility has been enough to make Kansas the punchline to many jokes about its football program.

But when Leipold arrived last year, he saw an opportunity. Kansas has had winning seasons in the past, and he knew the Jayhawks could do it again. So he began to shift the culture and mindset in the locker room, holding players to accountability and high standards while instilling the confidence and belief this team could win.

Though Kansas went 2-10 last season, there were signs that this program might be turning a corner. Kansas upset Texas on the road, then ended the season with one-score losses to TCU and West Virginia.

Players approached the offseason with a newfound competitiveness.

“We expected this,” receiver Luke Grimm said. “We wanted this. We came out after winter, and we were like we’re going to earn this, and the stuff that we’ve done the over the spring over the summer, all the hard work that everyone’s put in, we’re earning what we’ve been working for.”

Daniels is at the heart of it all. With his performance against Duke, he is the first player in school history with multiple games of at least five touchdowns, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Daniels completed 82.6 percent of his passes on Saturday, the highest since Todd Reesing in 2008.

With a rejuvenated offense, Kansas has scored 27 touchdowns this season. It had only 32 all of 2021.

In all, Kansas had a season-high 528 yards against Duke and has recorded 500-plus yards of total offense in three of four games this season.

That is enough to have Daniels gaining some national attention and have his name mentioned in correlation with the Heisman Trophy.

“He’s a heck of a player. So yeah, I’m all for it. Who’s ever running the campaign? Let’s get it going. I don’t vote. I just say this: He’s done a heck of a job getting a lot of people to take notice and take this program seriously,” Leipold said.

It wasn’t all easy for Kansas. Though the Jayhawks got off to a much faster start in this game compared to its last two, Duke never quit. After Riley Leonard threw a 27-yard touchdown pass with 2:40 to go, Kansas went three and out. Daniels said he missed a read on one play that he thinks could have gone for a first down.

Duke got the ball back at its own 5, and Leonard immediately threw a 40-yard pass to Jalon Calhoun down to the Duke 45. From there, the defense was able to hold Duke to just one first down (on a penalty) to seal the win.

Kansas has now won three games where it either had to rally to win, or hold on to win, and the confidence Leipold has seen in those moments is one of the biggest things he has learned about his team in the early going.

“The continual belief in what we’re doing when times are tough, how we’re overcoming those tough moments, things that we saw late last year, I’ve seen it play out with body language and things of that nature on the sideline probably better than I anticipated,” Leipold said.

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