The Kansas Jayhawks continued their dream start to the season against the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon, hanging on to win 35-27 and improve to 4-0 to start the year.
Once again, it was the Kansas offense that took center stage in the victory. And, like he has throughout the first third of the season, it was junior quarterback Jalon Daniels who stole the show.
Daniels has become one of the most celebrated breakout stars around college football this month and he only built on that legacy in Saturday’s win. A week ago, he had a career day against Houston, tallying five total touchdowns on the road.
He followed that with another remarkable effort against Duke, racking up another five touchdowns while piecing together the most efficient passing day he’s ever had against an FBS foe.
Daniels completed 19-of-23 passes against the Blue Devils for 324 yards and four touchdowns, career highs in both categories. He led all players in rushing, too, carrying the ball 11 times for 83 yards with another score on the ground.
Coach Lance Leipold said he didn’t even expect to see this level of play out of his quarterback going into the season.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” Leipold said. “He doesn’t let the moment get too big for him.”
After consecutive weeks with slow starts and 14-0 first-quarter deficits, it was the Jayhawks who set the tone against Duke. Kansas drove the length of the field before getting shut down on the goal line on its first drive, but bounced back a drive later with Daniels’ first touchdown pass, a strike to sophomore tight end Trevor Kardell.
Duke responded quickly to knot the game up, thanks in large part to KU’s biggest bugaboo on Saturday, a deep pass. Two drives later, however, Daniels found sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw in the flat, who turned a short pass into one of the impressive touchdowns of the season.
Daniels found one of his favorite targets, junior wide receiver Luke Grimm, for the final score of the first half, pushing the Jayhawks’ lead to 21-10.
Duke responded with a field goal but never got in much of a rhythm offensively once the second half began, with KU scoring the lone points of the third quarter on a Daniels deep strike to sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Arnold.
The Blue Devils did get on the board twice in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdowns, once again set up by explosive passing plays, but Kansas did just enough to hold on. Daniels scampered in from three yards out with 4:42 for the decisive score.
After forcing a turnover on downs with just 1:15 left in the game, Daniels knelt down twice and the sellout crowd in Lawrence stormed the field to celebrate.
Daniels said it felt “amazing” to see excitement both in the locker room after the game and from the fans, while Leipold commented on how much support has grown for KU football over the past year.
“It’s good for our university and community and all those different things,” Leipold said, adding: “There were probably times a year ago when it was really tough and we’d say ‘We’ll get this thing filled someday.'”
Saturday’s game was the first sellout for Kansas since 2019, and it’s the second one in the last 13 years. It’s also been 13 years since KU started a season 4-0.
“It was rocking, it was crazy,” Daniels said, “to see the whole entire Booth packed out, you love to see that.”
The buzz around Kansas is undeniable through four weeks, with Leipold even being asked about Heisman Trophy candidacy for Daniels after the game (“Whoever’s running the campaign, let’s get it going,” the coach said). But Daniels said he and the rest of the Jayhawks are just trying to focus on playing KU football.
“We’re not going to change because of anything that’s changed outside of these walls,” Daniels said.
Hishaw finished the game with the second-most rushing yards of any player, picking up 61 yards on the ground along with his 73 yards through the air. Arnold finished the game as KU’s leading receiver with four catches for 84 yards and a score.
Duke quarterback Riley Leonard matched Daniels’ yardage total with 324 of his own, completing 24-of-35 passes to reach that mark. His lone touchdown pass went to his favorite target, Jalon Calhoun, who netted five receptions for 93 yards in the losing effort.
The Jayhawks will be back at home again next Saturday for a matchup with the Iowa State Cyclones, who lost their matchup to 17th-ranked Baylor on Saturday 31-24. Kickoff on Oct. 1 is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.