Pictured above: Not targeting.
And that’s all we’re gonna say about that.
Last Friday night in Lawrence, The University of Kansas Fighting Jayhawks defeated the University of Illinois Fighting Illini 34-23. But as is often the case, the score doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, in this case, the score makes the game look much closer than it actually was.
Some people might say, well Mike, it was a tale of two halves. After all, Kansas took a 28-7 lead into halftime and only won by 11. Let’s investigate.
In the first half, Kansas gained 295 yards on 38 plays, a 7.7 yards per play clip, while Illinois picked up 122 yards on 22 plays at 5.5 ypp.
In the second half, Kansas gained 244 yards on 32 plays, which is 7.6 ypp, while Illinois added 219 yards on 31 plays, a 7.1 ypp average. Might I note, however, that 72 of those yards came on one play - on 3rd and 18 late in the third quarter, Illinois caught KU in man coverage. When the Illini quarterback escaped the pocket, he went 72 yards for a touchdown. Take out that one big play, and Illinois is right back down to 4.9 yards per play for the second half.
But of course, you can’t just eliminate plays from a football game. (Unless you’re a Big 10 replay official, of course.) The point is, Kansas dominated this game. The Jayhawks got out to a big lead and held off a Big 10 team at arms length the rest of the way.
The final numbers were stark. The Jayhawks ran 17 more offensive plays than Illinois did in the game, with Kansas averaging 7.4 yards per play to Illinois’ 6.1 ypp. As you might expect based on that last stat, KU dominated time of possession, 36:39 to 23:21. For the second straight game, Kansas put up 500+ yards of total offense. The Jayhawks treated Illinois like an FCS program.
Or, maybe it was actually worse than that. Against Missouri State, the KU defense had 9 TFL which included just 1 sack. However, against Illinois, Kansas once again was credited with 9 TFL, but 6 of those were sacks. The Jayhawks lived in the Illini backfield on defense, and on offense, KU’s running backs (Neal, Hishaw, McDuffie) combined to average 8.1 yards per rush. I mean, that’s insane.
Each team had two official turnovers; each team also turned it over on downs once. Kansas was an impressive 9-13 (69.2%) on third down, while Illinois converted just 4-10 (40.0%). Both teams were perfect in the red zone, and Illinois converted both of their 2-pt attempts.
Kansas jumped early on an Illinois team coming off an 8-5 campaign; four of those Illini losses last year were by one score, including a 19-17 affair in Ann Arbor in November. The Illini returned 63% of their production from last year’s team, which is an average number in college football for this year.
Most folks expected a close game. While Illinois had opportunities to make it close in the second half, they were never able to capitalize, and Kansas finished off an impressive win over a P5 program in front of the home folks. Consider: KU’s average start position in the first half was their own 16-yard line. And yet the Jayhawks put up four touchdowns in five drives.
The offense did struggle to close out drives in the second half. While the production in overall yards per play was still there, KU mustered just two field goals despite every single drive (save for the final kneel-downs) ending in Illinois territory.
Those second half turnovers in Illinois territory are the only reason why KU didn’t win this game 47-15. Kansas has now put the ball on the turf three times in its first two games and lost two of those fumbles; ball security has to be a concern at this point.
Jalon Daniels started and played the entire game, going 21-29 for 277 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT. Daniels took two sacks, but was credited with 41 rush yards on 9 carries (24 yards on 9 carries after sacks).
Devin Neal continues to have a nice 2023, picking up 120 yards on just 10 carries with a TD. Neal added 47 receiving yards on 4 catches.
Daniel Hishaw picked up 100 yards on 12 carries with a TD.
Dylan McDuffie added 20 yards on 7 carries.
Lawrence Arnold hauled in 5 passes for 89 yards.
Luke Grimm was credited with 69 yards (nice) on 4 receptions.
Quentin Skinner added 24 yards on two receptions.
Douglas Emilien and Trevor Wilson each brought down two receptions, while Mason Fairchild, Jared Casey, and Torry Locklin each hauled in one pass each. However, Casey and Locklin both celebrated in the end zone following their receptions.
Kenny Logan was credited with 8 tackles to lead the Jayhawks defensively.
JB Brown had 6 tackles, including 1 sack, 2 TFL, and a pass breakup.
Ra’Mello Dotson added 3 tackles, a pass breakup, and an INT.
Prior to his (questionable?) ejection for targeting late in the third quarter, Austin Booker had three tackles, two of which were sacks.
Jereme Robinson added two sacks, and was credited with an additional QBH.
Kwinton Lassiter sealed the game with his INT on Illinois’ final drive, giving Kansas possession with a two-score lead with just 1:59 to play in the game.
Seth Keller nailed two field goals (41, 30) and remains a perfect 4/4 on the year.
Damon Greaves got in his first punt of the year, a 37-yarder that was fair caught.