An unlikely hero, wild finish: Inside Kansas football’s upset of Texas, and what it means
AUSTIN, Texas — The celebration’s ongoing on the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and Jared Casey is trotting 100-plus yards away from the spot that’s just made him famous among Kansas football fans.
Casey, a redshirt freshman fullback, had just caught the game-winning pass on a two-point conversion attempt in overtime against Texas. The walk-on had helped deliver one of the Jayhawks’ most notable victories in recent program history, a 57-56 thriller, and been mobbed by teammates. And as tired as he may be, he’s putting in that extra bit of effort to make his way across the field to see two people.
Because, Casey would say postgame, those two individuals were his parents. Just as they had in weeks prior, like when Kansas went on the road to face Coastal Carolina or Duke, his parents traveled to see him play. He said they’d driven 11-and-a-half hours to watch him play Texas, probably just on special teams as usual, and they did so with no way of knowing he would play his first offensive snaps of the season because of an injury sustained by junior tight end Mason Fairchild.
So Casey went over there to show two people who mean so much to him some love. He said they were proud of him, that they told him they loved him.
And as wild as it is that a game with so many twists and turns found its end in Casey’s arms, in a way it’s fitting. A program that’s looking to build up support within the state in the first year of head coach Lance Leipold’s tenure has a signature moment it can build off. And someone who grew up watching Jayhawks football, making memories along the way, had such a key role in it.
“Really it’s just a surreal moment for me,” said Casey, whose hometown is listed as Plainville. “Being from a small town in Kansas, going to the University of Kansas, I’ve been a Kansas fan my whole life. I just saw the play open up, saw (sophomore quarterback Jalon Daniels) scramble out to the right. I was going to the right, and it just popped in my hands. So, it's a surreal moment.”
When Texas’ pressure pushed Daniels out of the pocket on that two-point conversion attempt, Daniels moved right just as Casey said and looked to the end zone. As simple as it sounds, Daniels saw Casey motion to indicate he was open. Daniels tossed the ball Casey’s way, Casey thinking the whole way the ball was taking a long time to get to him, and Casey caught it while sustaining a hit from a Longhorns defender.
And now so much has changed. For a team that’s still just 2-8 overall and 1-6 against the Big 12 Conference this season, a win’s infused momentum into a program that could only previously ask for fans' trust as they waited to see what the Leipold era might bring.
Kansas, which only ever trailed in overtime, is no longer searching for its first Big 12 win since 2019. It’s no longer searching for its first Big 12 win on the road since 2008. In fact, the Jayhawks have their first win ever against the Longhorns (4-6, 2-5 in Big 12) in Austin.
Kansas avoided the heartbreak the near-upset of Oklahoma brought earlier this season, and weathered the storm that Texas was ultimately going to bring. 14-0, 35-14 and 49-35 leads fell by the wayside as the Longhorns eventually forced overtime with a score in the final minute of the fourth quarter, and the Jayhawks didn’t fold under the pressure of a hostile crowd and surging opponent.
“We showed a lot of grit,” said Daniels, who feels personally he’s grown a lot mentally from who he was as a freshman. “… We showed that we’ve been working. We’ve been in a lot of tough, close games this year but weren’t able to be able to finish it. This game, we were able to go through the second half and just be able to show grit all over the field and just be able to work for each other and play for each other.”
Leipold knew when the game went to overtime that, should Kansas score a touchdown, it would go for the two-point conversion. Given the change in overtime rules, he knew they could eventually have to go for a two-point conversion anyway. Add on him having a young team he thought was wearing down, and Leipold decided to stick with the momentum gained from a touchdown and give it a shot.
Jayhawks offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki told Leipold he had a play in mind. They put the ball in the hands of a quarterback in Daniels who, conceivably if redshirt junior quarterback Jason Bean was healthy enough to play, wouldn’t have been playing considering the team’s desire to redshirt him. Daniels, who remained prepared despite his intended redshirt status, delivered.
“And that’s the key to that whole thing,” said Leipold, who could still redshirt Daniels if Daniels doesn’t play in any more games. “I think we talked about that for quite a while, is how much (Daniels) had stayed locked into this thing where a lot of guys … he’s so young, and for him to have that type of maturity is really impressive.”
The two-point conversion didn’t necessarily work out as intended, but it did its job. It meant the touchdowns Daniels, freshman running back Devin Neal and others scored, which helped deliver Kansas’ highest-scoring game since 2007, didn’t come in a loss. It meant the four turnovers the Jayhawks’ defense forced, albeit in a game where it still allowed 56 points, don’t have to be relegated to positives in the moral victory a close loss is.
There was balance offensively for a Kansas team that’s struggled at times to sustain momentum this season. There was effort throughout, even as Texas carved up Kansas’ defense at times, that meant the Jayhawks’ offense didn’t have to operate with zero margin for error. Don’t forget some of Kansas’ points came on a pick-six by freshman cornerback Jacobee Bryant.
“We talked about it (Friday) night at the hotel, about — we talked a lot about effort and straining,” said Leipold, who postgame would refer to Kansas as David and Texas as Goliath. “And then we talk about pride and passion and things of that nature. And I said, ‘One thing, no matter whatever happens, nobody ever wants to have their work ethic questioned and how bad they want to go about something.’ That’s something you take with you in life.”
There was a game earlier this season where, after it ended, Leipold was having a conversation about how losing can be frustrating and he’s frustrated just as the players are. Junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. replied that Leipold’s only been with the program for this season. Leipold was happy Saturday for Logan, for super-seniors like wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II and defensive end Kyron Johnson, and for many others.
What matters now is what the victory can mean for Kansas moving forward and if against TCU next week and West Virginia the week after the Jayhawks can show they can sustain a level of play like that. Casey and Logan, they mentioned how much momentum beating Texas can provide. Neal did, too.
“It only propels us forward,” said Neal, a Lawrence native who also explained it meant the world to him to be a part of this. “It propels us up. We fought a lot of adversity this season and we’re in the late, later stretch of that season and to put together that performance and go out there with confidence to execute, it’s just so important to our infrastructure of the program. And the sky’s the limit for us.”
Logan said: “This what we put, day-in and day-out, like, the effort … just to see it finally come together is just exciting. Like, this is what I stayed for, moments like this, to go out there with my team and compete at the highest level. And I just want to say thank you, to the man above and thank you to my team.”
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.