Emerging underclassmen providing hope to winless KU football
LAWRENCE — Silver linings aren’t exactly easy to identify in the wake of 30-point defeats, a margin Kansas football found itself on the wrong end of last Saturday.
By the time that long afternoon ended, however, the Jayhawks could reasonably point to at least three such examples that the program hopes signal a brighter future.
Underclassmen accounted for all three of KU’s touchdowns in the team’s 52-22 defeat to then-No. 23 Iowa State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. True freshmen Daniel Hishaw and Jalon Daniels found the end zone on 5- and 12-yard rushes, respectively, and sophomore Kenny Logan electrified with a 100-yard kickoff return score.
Those moments, as well as meaningful contributions from a number of other underclassmen pressed into action, were a welcome sight for KU, which took the field with eight regular starters unavailable. That list of absences didn’t include running back Pooka Williams nor linebacker Dru Prox, talented juniors who didn’t play after opting out of the remainder of the season.
Logan, a safety, also had the Jayhawks’ lone takeaway, a fourth-quarter interception snared before the game got out of reach. Other underclassmen who fared well Saturday include sophomore linebacker Nick Channel (team-high eight tackles), freshman wide receiver Luke Grimm (four catches for 56 yards), redshirt freshmen defensive linemen DaJon Terry (one sack, two quarterback hurries) and Marcus Harris, freshman cornerback Karon Prunty and freshmen offensive linemen Armaj Adams-Reed and Garrett Jones.
Daniels, who finished 16-for-29 passing for 165 yards and an interception, said underclassmen “need a lot of experience” in order to better their play. Four such opportunities remain this season, with the Jayhawks (0-6, 0-5 Big 12) next squaring off with No. 19 Oklahoma (4-2, 3-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Norman, Okla.
“Me being a true freshman, that experience is something that I’ve always wanted. Now that we have a lot of freshmen that are on the field getting that experience, I feel like that progress will show,” said Daniels, who also had a team-high 16 carries versus the Cyclones. “... Of course the end goal for every team is to win games, but all we can do is keep working on the field, keep working in practice, keep working in the film room and just keep studying everything that we can.
“Of course we’re always going to put our 100% (effort) onto the field. The score may not show that, but as a team we’re always working, always trying to progress.”
Daniels was at the controls Saturday for a pair of lengthy touchdown drives, with fellow underclassmen helping the Jayhawks get across the goal line.
On his team’s first scoring possession, Daniels completed 15-, 10- and 36-yard passes, with that final dart coming on a fourth-and-6 attempt that saw Grimm get all the way to the Cyclone 4. Two plays later, Hishaw finished off the seven-play, 59-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run out of a Wildcat formation, with the 5-foot-10, 186-pounder getting to the outside of the Iowa State defense.
“He showed a lot of power in that. I think (he) broke about three tackles to get into the end zone and would not be denied,” Daniels said. “At the end of that play, most people didn’t notice it but that was another freshman, Luke Grimm, who made a perfect block for him to get into the end zone. (He) knocked one guy into another and made that hole clear for Daniel to score.”
Daniels' 12-yard touchdown run capped a nine-play, 63-yard drive that brought the Jayhawks within two scores, 38-22, with 7:34 left in the fourth quarter. Among the offensive linemen blocking for Daniels on that scoring scamper were Adams-Reed, Jones and redshirt freshman Jack Werner.
On the sideline at that point in the game, senior offensive lineman Chris Hughes beamed with pride as he watched his young teammates hold their own on that important drive.
“The threshold for those kids is out of this world. Man, those kids are going to be really special and I can’t wait to see them blossom into the things that they can do,” Hughes said. “I was really proud of the way they handled it and the way they attacked it. Just watching them get so excited on the touchdown and everything, I mean, it’s like a father moment watching your kids do some crazy good stuff and you’re just so happy for them. I was really pleased with them.”
Jones, who saw time at center against the Cyclones, is “very intelligent” and a “good leader,” Hughes said. Meanwhile, the 6-5, 391-pound Adams-Reed appears to be only just beginning to tap into his potential.
“That kid is going to be really special. Mark my words: That kid is going to be really good,” Hughes said of Adams-Reed, who drew the start at right guard versus Iowa State. “You can watch the tape. He did really good. He held his own. I’m telling you: That kid is going to maul some kids. He’s a really good talent, very aggressive, very smart and just willing to learn. That’s what I love about Armaj: He loves to learn, he loves to listen, he loves to take instruction and just improve on his game.”
As second-year head coach Les Miles attempts to turn around a dire scholarship situation he inherited, it’s worth noting that KU’s current roster features 52 combined freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Hughes has observed a tight-knit bond among that sizable group, with those players constantly hanging out, eating together and simply laughing with one another.
“You love to see it and you encourage it,” Hughes said, “because that’s what builds a great foundation.”
That togetherness is by design, Daniels explained, with a desire to bring the long-suffering program out of the abyss serving as a common bond.
“That’s something we all have dreams of doing. That’s something that almost everybody in this class has thought about or talked about,” Daniels said. “That’s just the goal for us and that’s also the goal for coach Miles.”
By the time his senior year arrives, Daniels envisions that dream will be a reality.
“I feel like we’re going to do a lot of big things,” Daniels said. “We have a lot of big things coming our way.”
KANSAS AT NO. 19 OKLAHOMA
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
Records: KU 0-6, 0-5 Big 12; Oklahoma 4-2, 3-2 Big 12
Line: Oklahoma by 38
TV/Radio (Topeka): ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Up next for KU: vs. Texas, TBA Nov. 21, David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, Lawrence