Kansas Jayhawks come up short in memorable, record-setting Liberty Bowl

The Kansas Jayhawks had to overcome a massive second-half deficit to even stay competitive in Wednesday’s Liberty Bowl versus the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Faced with a 25-point margin, junior quarterback Jalon Daniels put the Jayhawks on his back and did everything he could to not just tie the game late, but to send it to three extra sessions.

Despite his heroic and historic effort, and a bevy of standout performances from across the roster, KU fell to Arkansas in the third overtime 55-53.

KU’s first bowl appearance in 14 years started off on a high note, with Daniels hitting sophomore running back Ky Thomas for a 29-yard touchdown strike to give the Jayhawks a 7-3 lead in the opening period.

Things turned sour quickly, however, with Arkansas scoring three more first-quarter touchdowns to reclaim the lead and extend it to 24-7, and at the break the Razorbacks led 31-13. Coach Sam Pittman’s group wasn’t done pouring it on, either; freshman Arkansas running back Rashod Dubinion scored early in the third quarter to make it a 38-13 game with just under 24 minutes of game time remaining.

That’s when Daniels and the Jayhawks’ offense came alive and mounted one of the most impressive comebacks of the college football season.

Before the third quarter was over, Thomas scored for the second time, this time getting in on the ground and cutting the deficit to three scores.

The fourth quarter was dominated by the Jayhawks in all three phases. Offensively, KU put up points on three of its final five drives, including touchdown passes on the last two from Daniels to sophomore Douglas Emilien and junior Luke Grimm, respectively. Grimm’s score was the most important play of a massive night in which he caught 10 passes for 167 yards and that score.

Daniels found sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Arnold for the two-point conversion after Grimm’s touchdown, knotting the game at 38 apiece with 41 seconds and officially overcoming the 25-point hole.

The game-tying score never could have happened without special teams mastery in the form of a recovered onside kick. Down by eight, Kansas junior placekicker Tabor Allen attempted an onside kick that the Jayhawks recovered after Arkansas’s Matt Landers waited too long to field the bouncing ball.


Defensively, Kansas was at its best in the final period of regulation. Arkansas had three drives in the fourth quarter, the first of which ended in a punt. The next was stopped thanks to a fumble (that was upheld on review) and a long return by KU sophomore cornerback Cobee Bryant.

Arkansas got one final possession in the game’s waning moments but elected to run out the clock and play for overtime.

“When the overtime hit, there was a sense of confidence about this group, especially with Jalon,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said.

After scoring 76 combined points in regulation, Kansas and Arkansas blew past the record for the highest-scoring Liberty Bowl in the overtime periods.

Each team scored in the first two sessions, setting up a two-point shootout to determine the winner. The Razorbacks scored first, putting the Jayhawks in a do-or-die position on their try.

KU resorted to trickery to keep the game alive, with backup senior quarterback Jason Bean taking the ball on an end-around and ending up with a split-second decision to run or pass toward the end zone. Bean went with the latter and skied the ball over Arnold’s head, ending the game.

Daniels finished the game 37-of-55 passing for 544 yards with five touchdown passes and two interceptions. He also ran for a touchdown. Both interceptions came within his first 14 passing attempts of the game, while he had three touchdowns and over 300 yards after halftime.

“In the second half, I played calm,” Daniels said. “I feel like in the first half, there were a few times where I played outside of myself, so in the second half I tried to come in and just stay calm no matter what the situation was.”

His 544 yards and passing 565 all-purpose yards (with 21 coming on the ground) are new records both in Kansas program history and in Liberty Bowl history. Daniels’ passing total broke a record set by Todd Reesing against Missouri in 2009, while his all-purpose mark bests Mike Norseth’s record that he set against Vanderbilt in 1985.

For Daniels, though, the biggest breakout star of KU’s breakout season, the stats are empty without also getting the victory.

JD: “We didn’t end the game how we wanted to end the game, so those statistics really do not matter, because at the end of the day the only statistic that matters is that win-loss column,” Daniels said.

Along with Grimm’s 167 yards, Arnold also break the 100-yard threshold through the air with 119 of his own on eight receptions. Tight ends Mason Fairchild and Jared Casey all caught touchdown passes in the losing effort, with Casey also catching a two-point conversion in double overtime.

That’s become something of a trend for Casey, who became a KU sensation after catching a game-winning two-point try against Texas in 2021.

The Jayhawks’ running game was far less effective than their air attack, with three ball carriers (and one team rush) netting just 59 yards on 34 carries.

Arkansas was excellent on the ground, posting 52 carries for 394 yards and five scores. Razorbacks quarterback K.J. Jefferson had a huge game both running and passing, racking up 417 all-purpose yards of his own along with four total touchdowns accounted for.

The two teams combined for 1,284 total yards of offense, another new Liberty Bowl record, and according to ESPN that’s also the second-highest combined total in bowl game history overall.

“What a game, what a crowd,” Pittman said. “Those are what bowls are about.”

Even though the year ended in a loss, the way Wednesday’s instant classic unfolded was the latest example of how far Kansas has come as a program this year under Leipold. The Jayhawks finish the season 6-7, achieving their highest win total and reaching their first bowl game since 2008.

“To be able to go into that many overtimes means that it’s a hell of a game, and I’m sure right after that first half a lot of people counted us out,” Daniels said. “To be able to come back the way that we did shows that we have a lot of grit on our team.”

For more reaction to the Kansas Jayhawks’ 55-53 triple-overtime loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks, check out Mic’d Up with Jake and Fulton from noon-3:00 p.m., and 580 Sports Talk with Brendan and Dan from 3-6:00 p.m. Thursday on 580 WIBW.