Receiver Kwamie Lassiter didn’t wait for any questions.
It was minutes after the Kansas soccer team lost 31-28 to TCU — and close to KU’s locker room — when the first player sat at a table with teammate Gallon Daniels and began chatting with reporters and a TV camera.
“First of all, if you don’t enjoy entertaining Jalon Daniels and the rest of the Jayhawk team, I don’t know what to tell you,” Lasseter said.
His first comments were raw and honest – it’s also likely refreshing to hear KU fans watch at home.
Jayhawks, like 21 1/2 points, were actually amusing. And though they couldn’t pull off the victory after a furious late comeback, they showed the kind of competitiveness and efficiency long-lost in a program that has been dragged against the bottom of college football for more than a decade.
KU played, by playing it, proved something else on a balmy autumn night at Amon J. Carter Stadium: It wasn’t just a flash in the pan, or a cute college football moment that popped to never be heard of again.
After a 57-56 win on the road to a program change of course over Texas a week ago, KU hit back on Saturday, rising from a double deficit in front of the TCU to tie it with less than five minutes left.
“It says a lot about our location,” said Kuwait University coach Lance Leibold. “It’s a depressed dressing room and a room that just isn’t ready for the season, and you can see that again. So I think those things are really important for the direction we’re going.”
There may be more, too.
The main story last week was Jared Casey from Kuwait University. It should have been.
Walking in from Plainville, Kansas, Casey spotted the game-winning two-point conversion having never played for KU prior to that competition. ESPN’s College GameDay Take note, as I did Fox Big Noun kicks off. Meanwhile, Casey has launched a commercial for Applebee to make some money from his newfound fame.
It was such a good feeling for all the happy stories…but it probably also had the potential to leave some KU players feeling left out of the spotlight after such an important win.
So this apparition? Well, it definitely seems to show that some Jayhawks have legitimate staying power.
Start with the named Lasseter player: Daniels.
A week ago against Texas, he posted the highest singles game score ever by the KU quarterback since Pro Football Focus began tracking in 2010. He also decided to pull a potential red jersey to play the Jayhawks’ last two games of the season.
However, in the middle of the week, he developed a stomach problem. Daniels missed some practice, and Leibold said he seemed to feel that QB was suffering from some lingering effects in the first quarter against the TCU.
These did not last. Daniels completed 22 of 30 passes for a high-level 255 yards while he designed two drop drives in the final quarter that helped tie him up at 28-28.
Casey was equally impressive after his national TV tour.
The narrow 6-foot finish set the stage for KU’s first two touchdowns with penal blocks. In the second quarter, he added a one-handed catch, then snuck behind TCU High School late to land 10 yards tied up.
To put it simply: Casey has been, for the past two weeks, one of KU’s best players.
“Really proud of him and that whole story, but I think the good thing about it, is that it shows that it’s not just a one-game story, as the youngster is a good footballer,” said Leibold.
Perhaps most encouragingly, Kuwait University seemed to take another step in the program by responding to early adversity.
Leibold explained that he was often concerned about his team’s collective psychology, especially on the road. Once things went wrong for early KU, they had a tendency to snowball quickly, and even Leipold chose to receive it when he won the opening coin toss in hopes of helping his team get off to a good start.
This game was different. KU offense bombed twice early. TCU scored in its first offensive possession. The Jayhawks were deteriorating 7-0, staring into the crater of a situation they had handled poorly in several previous instances.
The collapse did not follow. The opposite is true. The KU defense picked up a one-handed interception from Jacobee Bryant, and later a fourth and one-handed standoff with help from Caleb Sampson’s operatives.
Meanwhile, the offense recovered, setting up a pair of touchdowns in the first inning as KU led 14-7 in the first inning. This was the third time in the Jayhawks’ last five competitions that they had entered the first half.
“When we get frustrated (emotionally), we try not to stay calm,” said Kenny Logan, KU safety. “We’re trying to find a way to get out of the hole and get some energy for our team.”
What may be even more impressive is that KU and Leipold get it done with strict menu restrictions.
KU holding linebacker Devin Neal – attacking player in the Big 12 of the week – left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and has not returned; Leipold didn’t have an update after that about the potential availability of Neal for the end of the season either.
The Jayhawks also lost tight end Trevor Kardel to injury, forcing Casey to spend more playing time. If things go that way next week, KU will likely have only one player in the scholarship available to fall back (Amauri Pesek-Hickson), and no player will be left in linebackers and tight positions.
That reality rarely showed itself on Saturday, although for the second week in a row, the rebuilding of Leipold’s program appeared to be heading well ahead of schedule.
“I love the amount of fighting we’ve shown,” Daniels said. “There have been times on KU in the past where if we go down 14 the lights usually go out from there. But I am very happy and proud of my team to fight.”
The other side line certainly took note.
Interim TCU coach Jerry Keel was furious in his praise of Leipold and KU earlier in the week, and hasn’t held back after seeing the Jayhawks in person.
“They got it right in the end. No disrespect to anyone, but they got it right in the end,” Kiel said of KU employment at Leipold. “They’re going to be something to reckon with for the next three to four years.”
It was an advance from a month ago, no doubt. After an encouraging close loss to Oklahoma, KU did not appear next week against Oklahoma State, raising questions about the team’s actual growth.
This was a change. The Jayhawks stunned the Texans last week, then performed above expectations against the TCU while refusing to succumb to a natural disappointment.
No, it wasn’t a win. But for fans who have stuck with this game of Korean football for so long, it qualified as an improvement – a refreshing result based on the recent past.
“I’d say we’re coming,” Logan said. “We’re finally starting to put the puzzle pieces together.”
This story was originally published November 20, 2021, 11:02 p.m.