For the third time in the last four games, the Texas Longhorns are preparing for an opponent with injury issues at the quarterback position — this week, the possibility that Kansas Jayhawks quarterback Jalon Daniels could return from a right shoulder injury looms over the preparations of Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski ahead of Saturday’s trip to Lawrence.
As Kansas unexpectedly won its first five games this season, Daniels was one of college football’s breakout stars. In late September, in fact, ESPN slotted him No. 2 on an early Heisman Trophy watch list after Daniels threw 11 touchdown passes and ran for another five touchdowns to start the season.
But then the 2022 season took a sharp turn for Daniels and the Jayhawks on Oct. 8 in a game against the Horned Frogs. Late in the first half, Daniels scrambled near the right sideline and fell on his throwing shoulder when he was tackled. Daniels left the game, didn’t return, and hasn’t played since. Including that TCU game, Kansas has lost five of the last six, falling out of the polls and the national spotlight.
According to head coach Lance Leipold, however, Daniels is nearing a return.
“He’s taking more and more reps,” Leipold said on Monday. “He went today. It’s kind of where he’s at the point where he can play at a level that is gonna allow him to go out there and play freely. Is he ever going to be 100 percent like he was at beginning? No, but where is that at?
“If it’s not a daily conversation, it’s an every other day as we talk and look at it. And if you’re watching him in warm ups, you can see it’s really, really close. But there are a lot of factors that continue to go into that. And that’s the best way to say it. I’m hoping that — we’ve got two regular seasons game left — hopefully he’s going to be able to be out there for one or two of them.”
In place of Daniels, Kansas has received solid play from backup Jason Bean, a North Texas transfer who is 85-of-131 passing (64.9 percent) with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions while adding 222 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Bean is dealing with his own injury issue, though, after leaving Saturday’s loss to Texas Tech in the fourth quarter after taking a hit.
“I don’t have a lot — he didn’t do very much today,” Leipold said of Bean. “He was out there. But we’ll see. I thought for the short term and circumstances, I thought it was a small sample size, but there were some flashes of Ethan Vasko that I was very, very pleased with for his first college experience that shows that he’s going to be a good quarterback here.”
The uncertainty around Bean’s availability leaves a wide range of potential outcomes for Kansas at quarterback on Saturday, from the possibility of Daniels making his return to the necessity of playing Vasko, a freshman who went 3-of-5 passing for 13 yards after replacing Bean in the first appearance of his career.