How quarterback Jaylon Daniels led Kansas to a surprising undefeated run against Duke

LAWRENCE, Kan. – The key to quarterback success in college is stored in Brent Dearmon’s laptop. That’s where it supports proprietary, next-level analytics — if you think of a Microsoft Excel master file as next-level, proprietary and analytic.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard that,” said Dearmon, FAU’s offensive coordinator. – I graduated in mathematics.

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

Dearmon, a former Kansas offensive coordinator, is the one largely credited with discovering Jayhawks quarterback Jalon Daniels. Daniels is the one largely responsible for leading Kansas to its first 3-0 start in 13 years.

The best early-season feel-good story this side of the Appalachians is spreading 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 to be proud of.

Includes the likes of Les Miles, Charlie Weiss, David Beatty and Turner Gill. And the loss. So much loss.

“People probably didn’t expect it,” said KU sophomore coach Lance Leipold of the Jayhawks’ turnaround. “This is uncharted waters for them.”

So much so that Memorial Stadium’s first sellout in three years will see a matchup of undefeated teams that looks more like a Final Four matchup: Kansas vs. Duke.

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

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

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

“JD, when I put in all the numbers, he ranked up there with some fours and fivesstar quarterbacks in the country,” said Dearmon, who made his breakthrough as KU’s senior offensive consultant in 2019.

“I loved him. I took it [his tape] to the offensive coordinator. I took him to the recruiting coordinator. Everyone was knocking him, “Is he tall enough?” The ball comes out of his hand unlike any human being I’ve ever seen. It’s killing itself.”

Daniels is out of Lawndale High School, located just miles from both LAX and Los Angeles Beach. He was in the same recruiting class as fellow California signal-callers Bryce Young, DJ Uiagalelei and CJ Stroud. Somehow he was overlooked. As a three-star prospect rated 2,305 overall by 247Sports, maybe it is why he was overlooked.

“In that area of ​​Los Angeles, it kind of didn’t get hired because there’s so much [great quarterbacks]” Dearmon said. “I thought he got lost in the shuffle with all these big names.”

Dearmon heard about Daniels from Sam Fisher, a private quarterback coach in Southern California 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 just two seasons. His only “West Coast” offers were from Eastern Washington and New Mexico State. Daniels knew he would have to leave home to succeed and eventually commit to Middle Tennessee.

“I’ve never seen a ball travel 70 yards that fast in my life,” Fisher said. “Jaylon was grinning from ear to ear; that smile never went away. He didn’t mind. I was completely shocked.”

That Excel file? Dearmon tracks basics like touchdown-to-interception ratio. It also keeps track of wins. That was enough for Dearmon, who played quarterback at small Bethel University in McKenzie, Tennessee.

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

“The older school guys from the West Coast said, ‘Oh, we want a 6-4 kid,'” Dearmon said. “He grew on you.”

All of that was enough for Dearmon to stay on top of Daniels, who flipped from MTSU to Kansas just two days before signing his national letter of intent.

Daniels grew up in Kansas. When he started as a 17-year-old in 2020, he was getting balls thrown back in his face and, figuratively speaking, his brain went into overdrive. After 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 few months later, Dearmon announced he was leaving for Middle Tennessee. The man who had been standing at the table for Daniels in the staff room was now putting down his project.

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

“He kept it 100 percent with me the whole time,” Daniels said of Dearmon.

Now, some of the same offensive line protectors who have surrendered a combined 63 sacks over the past two seasons have not allowed one in 70 attempts in 2022.

The Jayhawks enter Saturday in the top five in scoring (3.0 ppg, fourth), third-down conversion (68.6%, second), rushing touchdowns (13, fourth) and rushing yards (7, 13, second only to Alabama).

The only “Coach K” connected to Saturday’s contest is Kansas offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. He added a triple-option element to Daniels’ game.

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

Those wins marked the first back-to-back wins on the road since 2007.

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

The game was also a turning point in the program for another reason. It was Daniels’ fourth game of the season. Due to a recent NCAA rule change, he could end his season right there and retain an additional year of redshirt eligibility.

Instead, Daniels finished the season. That’s a big reason the Jayhawks are at this point.

“He was one of the most selfless [program] things you would want,” Leipold said. “It’s not common today. [Players say] ‘Where’s mine?’ He saw the big picture. To be where we need to be, that was a huge message.”

“If I quit like that,” Daniels added, “it would stop any momentum.”

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

Leipold was 3-0 before in previous stops at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo, but going 3-0 at a Power Five — even one like Kansas — is different. He and his players have been sought after by the national media this week.

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

All three know what it’s like to lose 10 games at Kansas, but Mason and Mangino ultimately turned the corner with the Jayhawks to I win at least 10 games. In fact, Mangino — the last coach to start 3-0 — keeps in touch with Leipold regularly by text.

Here’s one of them from Mangino: If you win in Kansas, they’ll be crawling on nails for you.

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