The Kansas Jayhawks won three games total between the 2019-21 seasons.
In the words of junior quarterback Jalon Daniels, though, it’s new era for KU football.
Kansas is 5-0 to start the 2022 season after narrowly escaping against Iowa State 14-11 on Saturday, clinging to a slim lead throughout the second half to stay undefeated. It’s the latest KU has been undefeated in a season since a 5-0 start in 2009.
It’s also now just one win away from bowl eligibility for the first time since 2008.
Unlike the last four weeks, when it was the Jayhawks’ offense that took over games and wowed the college football world, it was the KU defense that made a statement and steered the program to a victory this week.
“Defense showed out today,” Daniels said. “They were able to come through when we really needed it.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Kansas offense did take off in the second period with a pair of scores. The scoring started with a four-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Daniel Hishaw, his fifth score of the year. Just over six minutes later the Jayhawks would extend the lead to two scores after a rushing score by Daniels.
The Cyclones got on the board just before halftime, cashing in on a touchdown pass from quarterback Hunter Dekkers to tight end Easton Dean, then tacked on a two-point conversion after a botched hold on their extra point.
That was it for most of the scoring for the contest; of the 25 total points in the game, 22 of them came before the break. The Jayhawks weren’t able to find any sort of momentum after that, tallying just 43 total yards of offense with zero points following halftime.
Daniels was critical of his own performance after the game, which came following a week of Heisman Trophy-related buzz for the breakout sensation.
“I had a lot of mistakes myself,” Daniels said. “There were a lot of plays where I was able to put us in a better position and I didn’t.”
Daniels added: “There’s just a lot of stuff I need to clean up.”
That’s where the KU defense stepped in and rose to the occasion, bending but not breaking throughout the second half to preserve the slim advantage. And it wasn’t just one player or one unit that made plays.
The Jayhawks’ front seven played arguably its best game of the year, thanks in large part to five sacks of Dekkers. The back end made plenty of plays, too, notably including a highlight-reel interception by sophomore cornerback Cobee Bryant.
“I think there’s times where you saw people at all three levels of our defense making plays today, and that’s encouraging,” Leipold said.
Kansas did get some help in the game from Iowa State’s special teams unit, whose performance can be described as nothing short of a calamity. Cyclones kicker Jace Gilbert missed three field goals in the losing effort, including a 37-yard attempt on fourth down and one yard to go with under a minute left.
Iowa State also lost a muffed punt in the second half.
In the end, Iowa State outgained Kansas by 100 yards, KU was just 3-for-10 on third downs, it was penalized more often for more yardage and the Jayhawks’ quarterback had his worst game of the season. And still, it’s Kansas that’s celebrating a Big 12 victory.
It’s the latest sign for Leipold that his program has taken a major step forward.
“I don’t know if this team ever could have done something like that a year ago,” Leipold said.
If that wasn’t enough to indicate how far Kansas has come, the David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium public address announcer made sure to hammer the point home.
The sellout home crowd poured onto the field after the clock hit quadruple zeroes, which was met with a new admonishment from the press box. After being asked to leave the stadium or return to their seats, fans heard the quip “It should be clear by now, our expectation is to win.”
For Daniels, the Week 5 victory was the epitome of something he’s been talking about all season long.
“Adversity is going to come at some point, and we definitely faced some adversity today on offense.”
Daniels finished the game 7-of-14 passing for just 93 yards, plus just nine yards on the ground and his rushing score. Sophomore running back Devin Neal led all players in rushing on Saturday, toting the ball 12 times for 75 yards.
Hishaw scored the first touchdown of the game but was taken off the field on a stretcher in the fourth quarter. Leipold said he didn’t have much information on the injury following the game, but was hoping to visit Hishaw in the hospital soon.
Dekkers finished the game 30-of-48 for Iowa State with 287 yards through the air with one touchdown and one interception. The Jayhawks completely shut down the Iowa State rushing attack, though, limiting the Cyclones to just 26 yards on 30 carries (thanks largely to the aforementioned five sacks and a botched snap, in fairness).
KU actually finished the game with more yards per play than Iowa State even with its offensive struggles throughout the afternoon.
The Jayhawks will be back home for the third week in a row next Saturday, when the also-undefeated TCU Horned Frogs visit Lawrence. TCU improved to 4-0 this week by blowing out Oklahoma 55-24. Next weekend’s game is set for an 11:00 a.m. kickoff and will be televised on FS1.