KU’s Jalon Daniels powers Kansas Jayhawks past Duke 35-27: ‘He’s out of this world’

Kansas quarterback, team leader and Heisman Trophy candidate Jalon Daniels moved to the front of the line and, for the first time in his three-year college career, led the Jayhawks through the tunnel in the southwest corner of Booth Memorial Stadium and onto the field before Saturday’s morning kickoff against the Duke Blue Devils.

“Honestly it was just a feeling. Coach (Lance) Leipold didn’t pull me back or anything, so I was like, ‘All right, let’s do it,” Daniels explained after throwing for four touchdowns and running for a fifth in KU’s 35-27 victory.

Earlier, Daniels, a 6-foot, 215-pound native of Lawndale, California, had seen the stands starting to fill as he and his teammates went through pre-game warmups. When he exited the tunnel, he observed 47,233 sun-baked fans — KU’s first sellout crowd since the Kansas State game in 2019 and just the third overall sellout here in 13 years — fired up to watch KU improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2009.

Improve to 4-0 they did, dropping Duke to 3-1 in the process.

“It was rocking,” Daniels said of the game-day atmosphere. “It was crazy to be able to come out there for the intros and see the entire Booth packed out.”

Daniels treated those in attendance (and watching the national FS1 broadcast) to a spectacular afternoon, completing 19 of 23 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns (three the first half). He also rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

“It’s something we’ve been working toward. To be able to bring that (packed stadium) back, we love seeing that,” Daniels said.

Daniels hit tight end Trevor Kardell on a 6-yard TD pass to open the scoring. After Duke tied the game, he connected with running back Daniel Hishaw on a pass-and-dash that was good for a 73-yards and a score. Hishaw, who also rushed for 61 yards on 10 carries, spun at midfield and broke four tackles on the highlight-reel play.

Daniels hit receiver Luke Grimm for a 19-yard score and KU held a 21-13 halftime advantage. Daniels at that point had three TD passes to three different receivers.

“It’s unbelievable. He’s out of this world. It’s like some alien is running his brain,” Grimm said after catching five passes for 63 yards and the TD. “It’s insane what he’s doing.”

The touchdown by Hishaw, a 5-10, 215-pound sophomore from Moore, Oklahoma, could be classified as “insane” as well, considering all the defenders he ditched along the way.

“No, there’s no way you can do that,” Hishaw said with a smile when asked if he’d counted all the tackles he shed. “If you are doing that, you are too worried about stats.”

Asked if he dreams about a play like that, the ever-quotable Hishaw joked: “I dream doing a lot of stuff. Sometimes I dream of going to the moon. I envision myself going and doing a lot of things on the field, so when I get the ball in my hands I can do it.” Hishaw said practice, as well as those blocking in front of him, makes such plays possible.

“Listen, we’ve got a thing at practice called ‘ball security circuit,’” he said. “You’ve got to hold the ball tight, spin through a lot of tackles. I think that’s the big thing that helps me do it.”

Daniels’ final TD pass of the day was a 36-yarder to Lawrence Arnold with 8:25 left in the third quarter. That gave KU a game-high lead of 15 points, 28-13. Daniels’ 3-yard TD run provided KU with a 35-20 lead and the final score with just 4:42 left in the game.

Duke (3-1) did not quit. In fact, the Blue Devils of the ACC cut the gap to 35-27 on a 27-yard TD pass from Riley Leonard (24 of 35 for 324 yards and a TD; 10 carries, 54 yards) to Jason Calhoun with 2:40 to play. Duke wound up getting the ball back and marched to KU’s 31 before the Jayhawks’ defense held, forcing a turnover on downs.

“They didn’t lay down for sure,” said KU defensive lineman Lonnie Phelps, who had six tackles — including a sack. “It was a dogfight, a war. We both competed to the end.”

Ra’Mello Dotson led the way for the Jayhawks defensively with nine tackles.

Happy with the victory, second-year coach Leipold smiled when asked if Daniels was a serious Heisman candidate now.

“He’s a heck of a player, so yeah — I’m all for it,” Leipold said. “Whoever is running the campaign, let’s get it going. I think he’s doing a heck of a job getting a lot of people to take notice and take this program seriously.”

KU will next play host to Iowa State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Booth Memorial Stadium. The Cyclones (3-1) lost to Baylor 31-24 on Saturday in Ames, Iowa.