99 Days: Kansas Football 2023 Recap and Grades, Pt 1

We start off the countdown with a look back at the first half of last season for the Kansas Jayhawks.
Sep 23, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs the ball during the second half against the Brigham Young Cougars at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 23, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs the ball during the second half against the Brigham Young Cougars at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
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We'll be starting the first few days of our 100 Days Until Kansas Football countdown diving into a bunch of review of last season and the offseason so far. And just like last season, the Kansas Jayhawks are coming off of a bowl appearance and a very productive spring football season. Unlike last year, they are building off of a dominant bowl victory and come into this season with huge expectations.

Kansas matched their hot start from the prior season, but this time it didn't feel like a fluke. The Jayhawks showed early that they expected to be a good team and compete in the Big 12, and overall things went about as well as you could expect despite some very trying circumstances. Today, we'll be grading the first half of last season on the field, through the UCF game. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the rest of the season.

Week 1: vs Missouri State

Result: 48-17 Win

Despite an early hiccup in the form of a Daniel Hishaw fumble and turnover, the Jayhawks put on a dominant performance in front of the home crowd, rushing their way to four touchdowns and passing for two more. The debut was marred by the offseason injury to Jalon Daniels, which would end up being a bigger deal than many thought.

The defense showed up as well, making the Bears work for their first touchdown after that turnover. Then they held their opponent to just 10 points the rest of the way, including snagging two late interceptions to seal any hope the Bears had to make it competitive. It wasn't always pretty, but it got the job done.

Grade: A-

Week 2: vs Illinois

Result: 34-23 Win

Jalon Daniels made his anticipated debut and showed early why he was the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year on offense. He led the Jayhawks to touchdowns on four out of five first half drives, with the only three and out coming on a blown blocking assignment to result in a sack. And the defense shut down the Illini in the first half as well, forcing punts on the first four drives before giving up a touchdown with less than a minute to go in the half.

But the second half was a completely different story. The offense sputtered early, anaging only two field goals in the third quarter. The defense looked to be just as dominant as the first half, forcing a turnover on downs followed by an interception. But the next two drives resulted in touchdowns and successful two point conversions to pull the game within 11. Even a long drive to run almost 5 minutes off the clock didn't put the game away until an interception with just 2 minutes left perserved the win.

While the second half was less than you hoped for, it was still an overall solid performance that had many feeling optimistic about the next few weeks. Kansas nearly had two 100-yard rushers, with Daniel Hishaw just 2 yards shy of the century mark.

Grade: B

Week 3: at Nevada

Result: 31-24 Win

In what was by far the strangest game of the season, the Jayhawks overcame some terrible fumble luck to hold on against the heavy underdog Wolf Pack on the road. Kansas fumbled the ball twice and lost one while Nevada fumbled five times without turning the ball over to stay in the game. Jalon Daniels was nonexistent in the running game, but Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw picked up the slack, combining for 137 yards and four touchdowns.

The defense struggled in this one, allowing an abysmal Nevada offense to look good all night long, matching the Jayhawks drive for drive until late in the fourth quarter. Whether it was the late start, saving some for the Big 12 opener the next week or something else entirely, Kansas had a poor performance but still somehow managed to get a pass.

Grade: C-

Week 4: vs BYU

Result: 38-27 Win

The Kansas defense made a big statement in this game, scoring one the first drive of each half to put the Jayhawks in the driver seat. Cobee Bryant had a crushing hit on Parker Kingston to force a fumble, which he promptly scooped up and ran into the end zone to give Kansas the lead. But the Cougars answered right back, hitting a late field goal to break a tie just before half.

It took just 19 seconds and 3 plays in the second half to take the lead for good. Two incompletions, including a dropped interception by Marvin Grant, were followed by Kenny Logan anticipating a pass to the sideline and getting the perfect jump to run it all the way back for the score. Holding the Cougars to a field goal preserved the one-point lead, and two touchdowns sandwiching a Bryant interception gave the Jayhawks a two-score advantage. It took a 6-minute drive ending in a field goal to finally make the lead safe.

Grade: B+

Week 5: at #3 Texas

Result: 40-14 Loss

The biggest storyline to come out of this game wasn't even from a player who hit the field. Jalon Daniels was a very late scratch in this one, with multiple reports indicating that Jason Bean and the Kansas staff was not aware that Daniels had reaggravated his back injury until the team was preparing to take the field in pregame.

Despite the drama surrounding the surprising scratch, Kansas looked competitive in this one for a while. The defense held firm in the first half, holding Texas to just 13 points on three long scoring drives. And while the offense was clearly affected by the loss, Daniel Hishaw was able to score on an 18-yard run to keep the halftime margin at a single score.

Texas scored quickly in the second half, but Bean aired out a huge pass to Trevor Wilson down the field for a 58-yard touchdown to pull back to within 6. The defense got a huge stop, forcing a missed field goal to give the Jayhawks an opportunity to take their first lead, but Bean fumbled and the Texas defense capitalized. The final 20 minutes of game time were all Texas.

The grade for this one has to be put into context of the situation, as a ranked Kansas team went on the road against one of the best teams in the nation and was competitive for 40 minutes without their best player and clear leader of the team. But the performance put on by Jason Bean helped set the tone for the rest of the season. That keeps this from a failing grade.

Grade: D

Week 6 vs UCF

Result: 51-22 Win

The Jayhawks exorcised some demons against the helpless Knights, who saw a banged-up John Rhys Plumlee take some heavy hits and have to leave the game early in this one. The defense took advantage of Timmy McClain's inability to match the production of Plumlee, forcing the Knights to turn to their running game. They put up a respectable 202 yards.

But about the only thing not working for the Jayhawks in this game was the passing game, and that was mainly because it wasn't needed. Kansas put up 399 yards on the ground, including 154 from Devin Neal, 134 from Daniel Hishaw and 91 from third-stringer Dylan McDuffie, combining for 5 rushing touchdowns. The lone receiving touchdown was pulled in by Lawrence Arnold, and Trevor Wilson provided a huge special teams highlight late in the first half when he returned a punt 82 yards for the touchdown, pushing the Kansas lead to 24-0.

If you are looking for things to nitpick, the defense did allow two touchdown drives of 5 plays or less that went for 75 yards in less than two minutes. But those didn't come until the game was well out of reach in the second half, and the 31-0 scoring run to start the game was more than enough to counteract that.

Grade: A+

We'll finish up with the second half of the schedule and an overall grade tomorrow.

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Andy Mitts


Andy Mitts is an alumnus of the University of Kansas, graduating in 2007. He previously covered the Jayhawks at Rock Chalk Talk and is now the editor-in-chief at Blue Wing Rising. He hosts the Kansas-themed Rock Chalk Podcast, and is VP of Membership of the Ten 12 Podcast Network. Follow him on Twitter @AndyMitts12.