Quinn Ewers and No. 3 Texas get ready for Jalon Daniels and No. 24 Kansas
By MARK ROSNER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels already has delivered one program-shaking play in Austin. He would love to do it again.
Quinn Ewers guided Texas to a win over Alabama that changed the trajectory of the season for the Longhorns. His goal is to keep them barreling ahead on course to a Big 12 title.
The No. 24 Jayhawks and No. 3 Longhorns meet Saturday with both teams 4-0, and it will be Daniels' game-winning, scrambling 2-point conversion pass to Jared Casey in overtime in 2021 that will get talked about all week.
The 57-56 victory snapped the Jayhawk's 58-game road losing streak in the Big 12 and ignited the program under first-year coach Lance Leipold. It also shook Texas in a 5-7 season in coach Steve Sarkisian's first year.
“In a weird way, I'm kind of glad it happened,” Sarkisian said Monday. “It exposed some warts in our program that needed to get removed."
Two seasons ago, Kansas caught Texas by surprise. Texas delivered some measure of payback with last season's 55-14 win in Lawrence, but the desire to do it again at home will be great.
Offensive tackle Christian Jones allowed a sack in the 2021 game that resulted in a fumble and started a short Kansas touchdown drive.
“It broke me to my core, man,” Jones said. “I just remember feeling so low and so sad during that moment, and dealing with consequences after that moment, you know, all the slander, the DMs, all that type of stuff, the crazy, wild messages.”
Daniels led Kansas to a 5-0 start last season before he was sidelined for four games with a shoulder injury. The impact was immediate: Kansas lost all four and finished 6-7.
So far this season, Daniels, the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year, has thrown for 705 yards and five touchdowns, and Kansas has started consecutive seasons 4-0 for the first time in 108 years. The Jayhawks moved into the AP Top 25 this week.
“We’re a long way from a 0-9 program that we were my (COVID-19-shortened) freshman year,” Daniels said. "The fact that my class, the 2020 class that were freshmen that year, are finally able to see the changes we’ve made in the program, that means the world to us.”
Texas has improved considerably on defense since it last met Daniels in Austin. The Longhorns finished the 2021 season ranked No. 100 nationally in total defense and 99th in points allowed. This season Texas is 24th and 12th in those categories, allowing a stingy 12.5 points a game.
The Longhorns have 13 sacks and a secondary with a knack for creating game-breaking turnovers. Texas sacked Baylor quarterback Sawyer Robertson five times.
Robertson is a backup, though, as was the QB the Longhorns faced against Wyoming a week earlier. Even Alabama, ranked No. 3 when it lost to Texas, was unsettled under center, trying to determine a replacement for the departed all-American Bryce Young.
Kansas has no such uncertainty. Daniels completed a tidy 14 of 19 passes, three for touchdowns, during a 38-27 win against BYU on Saturday. He ran for 54 yards. He directs an offense that leads the nation in third-down conversion percentage.
“He’s a real dual threat,” Sarkisian said. “I think the natural thing is we think about the runs that he has for explosive plays. But he throws the ball all over the place.”
Ewers was not at Texas for the 2021 loss. He was at Ohio State, where he spent his first year deep on the depth chart before transferring last season. But he noted how 2021 set the fire that forged this season’s team into one believing it can contend for Big 12 and national championships.
Ewers was inconsistent in home wins over Rice and Wyoming but terrific at Alabama and Baylor. He threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-24 win over the Crimson Tide, igniting talk about Texas possibly reaching the College Football Playoff for the first time.
“He is a great quarterback,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “He's going to be a high draft pick. But it's the weapons (around Ewers) as well. Keeping them out of rhythm, getting them in longer down to distance, that's the huge challenge.”
In the win over Wyoming, Ewers had the second-lowest passing yards (131) in his career and missed several open receivers. That game left Sarkisian saying “every aspect" of the passing had to get better.
It did against Baylor. Ewers threw for 293 yards and a touchdown. He scampered 29 yards for a score, showing some speed and agility after shedding 15 pounds in the offseason. Ewers said his ability to run, an added dimension, might open up space for the passing game.
“But I might have to do a little bit more than just one run for (opponents) to really start to look at me as a runner,” he said.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll
Updated September 25, 2023