In the first season of the Lance Leipold era for Kansas football, there were only two wins, but wins never tell the entire story. Defining moments and individual performances shaped the Jayhawks in their 2-10 campaign. Here is a review of the 2021 season.
In terms of basic statistics, Kansas finished last in the Big 12 standings. The Jayhawks also ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring (20.8 ppg), points allowed per game (42.2), yards per game (324.2) and yards allowed (486.8).
Redshirt junior quarterback Jason Bean tallied the most passing yards with 1,252, but sophomore quarterback Jalon Daniels threw for seven touchdowns compared to Bean’s six. Daniels also averaged more yards per game with 143.3 while Bean sat at 113.8.
Freshman Devin Neal led all rushers this season with 707 yards on the ground along with eight touchdowns, which also led all rushers. Senior wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II led all receivers 653 receiving yards but tied for the most touchdowns with redshirt sophomore Trevor Wilson and sophomore Luke Grimm, who all tallied three touchdowns.
Junior safety Kenny Logan Jr. led the team and the Big 12 in tackles with 113 total tackles. Senior defensive end Kyron Johnson led the team in sacks with 6.5. Johnson also tallied the most tackles for loss with 8.5.
Moment of the Year: A First in Austin
Going into the matchup against the Longhorns in Austin, little had gone right in the previous two weeks. After nearly beating then-No. 3 Oklahoma, Kansas had lost two straight at Oklahoma State 55-3, and against in-state rivals K-State 35-10. Kansas had also never recorded a victory against the Longhorns in Austin.
This also signaled new territory for Daniels. After sustained injuries to Bean and redshirt senior Miles Kendrick the week before, Daniels was thrust into the starting role. He didn’t disappoint, however, throwing for 202 yards and three touchdowns while also adding 45 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“Outstanding, I mean just amazing,” coach Lance Leipold said about Daniels’ performance against Texas. “To play this well without really getting so many snaps. To come in with the energy that he did, not just the second half, I mean...going 21/30, that’s amazing. He’s accurate. Again, I thought he was outstanding.”
Along with Daniels’ performance, Neal had his best game as a Jayhawk so far. He rushed for 143 yards, 26 receiving yards and accounted for four total touchdowns. His performance also earned him Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week.
Although perhaps the best story to come out of this game was redshirt freshman tight end Jared Casey.
Coming into the matchup against Texas, the Plainville native had recorded no offensive snaps and had primarily been a special teams fixture. But injuries sustained throughout the game thrust Casey into possibly the biggest play of the season.
After scoring a touchdown in overtime to bring the Jayhawks within one, Leipold was left with a decision: kick the extra point and send the game to a second overtime, or go for the kill with a two-point conversion. Although for Leipold, the decision was made even before overtime had started.
“We made a decision earlier that if we score, we are going for two,” Leipold said. “Our Athletic Director, Travis Goff, I sort of gave him a look saying ‘Hey we are going to go for this thing’ and we did it.”
After being flushed out of the pocket, Daniels saw Casey waving his hands in the end zone. Daniels fired and Casey brought in the pass to secure the Jayhawks’ first-ever win in Austin. Also, an all-time memorable reaction from his family.
Team MVP: Kenny Logan Jr.
Logan became one of the unequivocal leaders of the defense this season. His physical and gritty play throughout the campaign helped the Jayhawks stay in some games.
He finished with 113 total tackles to lead the team, including four tackles for loss. Logan didn’t record any sacks but did record an interception on the season. Logan also forced two fumbles.
Logan also had an impact on the special teams, serving as the primary kick returner. He tallied 15 returns for 419 total yards returning and averaged 27.9 yards per return. Although Logan didn’t record a return touchdown on the year, he nearly had one in the opening matchup against South Dakota that went for 83 yards.
Logan also became one of two Jayhawks, along with Kyron Johnson, to earn All-Big 12 second team honors for his season.
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Earl Bostick Jr., Lassiter II, junior linebacker Rich Miller, Neal and redshirt junior center Mike Novitsky were named All-Big 12 honorable mentions.
Reactions and Looking Ahead
Following the Jayhawks’ final game loss to West Virginia, the sense of improvement throughout the season from Leipold was evident.
“There are other games where we struggled and the games weren’t very close," Leipold said. "And you watch these last three weeks of a group, even though like everybody, depth has been dented in many different ways. You watch different people get opportunities and that part of their competitiveness, passion, pride, and work ethic, that we’ve been emphasizing, has resonated through the program, and I’m very pleased with that.”
Logan said that despite a long offseason, the period between the end of the season and the beginning of the next year is all about taking care of yourself.
“Just grinding really. Getting your mind focused, getting your body right, getting back healthy. And just going back to the drawing board and grinding.”
Daniels echoed Logan but also added that the preparation for next season would be one of the most important in recent years.
“We all have faith in the plan that coach Leipold has for us," Daniels said. "Going through the first spring ball with coach Leipold, actually getting a full fall camp with coach Leipold, and then going into the season. I believe that this offseason is probably going to be one of the most pivotal offseasons for Kansas football.”
Daniels also added that he didn’t want to start next season slow and instead build on the end of this season.
“Next year, I want to come in with a bang,” Daniels said. “I want to start off exactly how we finished off this season. I want to be able to compete with every single team in the Big 12, no matter who they are, I don’t care [about] the name. I want to be able to compete, and this offseason is going to allow us to be able to do that.”
Kansas football finished the season 2-10 with a 1-8 conference record. Their lone wins coming against South Dakota and Texas.