How quarterback Jalon Daniels has Kansas rolling into showdown of surprise unbeatens against Duke

Fri, Sep 23, 2022

How quarterback Jalon Daniels has Kansas rolling into showdown of surprise unbeatens against Duke

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The key to college quarterback success is stored on Brent Dearmon's laptop. It is there he keeps next-level proprietary analytics -- if you consider a basic Microsoft Excel file next-level, proprietary and analytic.

"I don't know if you've heard this," said Dearmon, FAU's offensive coordinator. "I'm a math major."

That's a good place to start for this week's best underground rags to riches quarterback success story.

It is Dearmon, formerly Kansas' offensive coordinator, who is largely credited with discovering Jayhawks quarterback Jalon Daniels. It is Daniels who is largely responsible for leading Kansas to its first 3-0 start in 13 years.

The best early season feel-good story this side of Appalachian State spreads out from there like Crimson and Blue ink spilled on a white tablecloth.

It includes a litany of failures at a basketball school that just needed a football program of which it could be proud.

It includes the likes of Les Miles, Charlie Weis, David Beaty and Turner Gill. And the losing. So much losing.

"Probably people didn't expect it," said KU second-year coach Lance Leipold of the Jayhawks' turnaround. "It's uncharted waters for them."

So much so that the first sellout at Memorial Stadium in three years will witness a showdown between undefeateds that looks more like Final Four game: Kansas vs. Duke. '

So much so that Leipold himself is being perceived as a short timer if Nebraska comes calling.

So much so that Dearmon, who worked under Miles, saw things others did not. There are 12 quarterback traits tracked by Dearmon in that Excel file. His 12 traits. The numbers burp out his version of quarterback success, which these days should be as good as that of anyone else.

So much so that Daniels -- an undersized, little-known prospect with a smile that could light up the world -- definitely has the game to carry a program.

"J.D., when I plugged in all the numbers, he was ranking up there with some of the four- and five-star quarterbacks in the country," said Dearmon, who made his quarterback discovery as a KU senior offensive consultant in 2019.

"I loved him. I took [his tape] to the offensive coordinator. I took him to the recruiting coordinator. Everybody's knock on him was, 'Is he tall enough?' The ball comes out of his hand different than any human being I've ever seen. It whips out."

Daniels is out of Lawndale High School, located just miles from both LAX and the Los Angeles beach. He was in the same recruiting class as fellow Californian signal callers Bryce Young, D.J. Uiagalelei and C.J. Stroud. Somehow, he got overlooked. As a three-star prospect rated No. 2,305 overall by 247Sports, maybe that's why he got overlooked.

"In that L.A. area, he kind of got underrecruited because there are so many [great quarterbacks]," Dearmon said. "I thought he got lost in the shuffle because of all those big names."

Dearmon heard about Daniels from Sam Fisher, a Southern California private quarterback trainer who couldn't get the kid out of his head.

Lawndale had won a state championship with Daniels in 2018, but Daniels ended up starting only two seasons. His only "West Coast" offers were from Eastern Washington and New Mexico State. Daniels knew he'd have to leave home to make it, eventually committing to Middle Tennessee.

"I've never seen a ball travel 70 yards so fast in my life," Fisher said. "Jalon was smiling from ear to ear; that smile has never gone away. He didn't have anything going on. I was completely shocked."

That Excel file? Dearmon tracks the basics like touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also tracks winning. It was enough for Dearmon, who played quarterback at tiny Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee.

The height thing? Dearmon and Fisher can't understand it. Daniels is 6-foot. Young just won the Heisman Trophy at 5-foot-11. Baker Mayfield is 6-foot-1.

"The older school West Coast guys were like 'Oh, we want a 6-4 kid,' Dearmon said. "He grew on you."

All of it was enough for Dearmon to stay on top of Daniels, who flipped from MTSU to Kansas just two days before he was set to sign his National Letter of Intent.

Daniels matured at Kansas. When he started as a 17-year-old in 2020, he was getting balls batted back into his face, and figuratively, his brains beat in. Following the worst decade in program history (21-99 from 2010-19), the Jayhawks went 0-9 in Miles' second and final season in 2020.

A couple of months later, Dearmon announced he was leaving for Middle Tennessee. The man who stood on the table for Daniels in the staff room now was leaving his project behind.'

Dearmon looks back on the past with sadness. If Daniels had stayed with his original Middle Tennessee commitment, they would be together today.

"He kept it 100% with me their entire time," Daniels said of Dearmon.'

Now, some of the same offensive line protectors who surrendered a combined 63 sacks the last two seasons have allowed none through 70 attempts in 2022.'

The Jayhawks enter Saturday top five in scoring (3.0 points per game, fourth), third-down conversions (68.6%, second), touchdowns rushing (13, fourth) and yards per rush (7.13, second only to Alabama).

The only "Coach K" associated with Saturday's contest is Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. He added a triple option element to Daniels' game.

You might already have noticed. Jalon Daniels outdueled one of those California quarterbacks -- former No. 1 overall recruit JT Daniels -- in an overtime win at West Virginia. Jalon both ran (123 yards) and threw (three touchdowns) all over Houston last Saturday in a 48-30 upset.

Those victories marked the program's first back-to-back road wins since 2007.

But there were signs along the way. Daniels led one of the biggest upsets of 2021, throwing the game-winning two-point conversion in overtime to win at Texas. That snapped a 13-year, 56-game road losing streak in Big 12 play. In that game, we saw what Daniels could become as he threw a career-high three touchdowns and ran for a then-career high 45 yards.

The game was also a program turning point for another reason. It was Daniels' fourth game of the season. Because of a recent NCAA rule change, he could have ended his season right there and retained an extra year of eligibility as a redshirt.

Instead, Daniels finished the season. That's a significant reason why the Jayhawks are at this moment.

"It was one of the most unselfish [program] things you'd want," Leipold said. "It's not common today. [Players say] 'Where's mine?' He saw the big picture. For us to be where we need to, it was a huge message."

"If I quit like that," Daniels added, "that would've stopped all momentum."

Leipold embraced it all. Twice this week he has intimated he'll stay at Kansas despite deep coaching roots in the state of Nebraska (Nebraska and Nebraska-Omaha from 1994-2006).

Leipold has been 3-0 before in previous stops at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo, but being 3-0 at a Power Five -- even one like Kansas -- is different. He and his players were in demand of the national media this week.

In the last two weeks, former KU coaches Gill, Glen Mason and Mark Mangino all reached out.

All three know what it's like to lose 10 games at Kansas, but Mason and Mangino eventually turned the corner with the Jayhawks to win at least 10 games. In fact, Mangino -- that last coach to start 3-0 -- stays in touch with Leipold regularly with texts.

Here's one of them from Mangino: If you win at Kansas, they'll crawl on nails for you.

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