What to Know about Kansas, the Liberty Bowl Foe Mizzou Reportedly Wanted No Part Of

Jalon Daniels, Kansas football, Liberty Bowl
photo credit: Kansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — It is official: The 2022 Arkansas football season will end with a matchup against Kansas in the Liberty Bowl, the UA announced Sunday afternoon.

The Razorbacks and Jayhawks are coming off identical 6-6 regular seasons and will now meet on the gridiron for just the third time — the first in more than a century. The game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. CT on Dec. 28.

“We’re extremely excited to be headed to Memphis to play a really good Kansas team in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl,” head coach Sam Pittman said in a statement. “Coach (Lance) Leipold and his staff have done a tremendous job with their team and we look forward to the challenge. For us, the opportunity to play a bowl game in what we consider our backyard is going to be special. We can’t wait to see our fans in Memphis in a few weeks.”

This will be Arkansas’ sixth appearance in the Liberty Bowl, breaking a tie with Mississippi State for the most by any school in that particular postseason game. It is 2-3 in the previous five, with the most recent appearance being a 45-23 win over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl following the 2015 season.

Current head coach Sam Pittman was part of the staff that season, but he left to take the offensive line coaching job at Georgia before the bowl game.

Considering Liberty Bowl representatives saw Arkansas play multiple times this season, it isn’t a particularly surprising selection, but it was likely made possible by Missouri declining an opportunity to face Kansas.

Although the Tigers — who got bowl eligible thanks to the Razorbacks’ disappointing showing in the Battle Line Rivalry to end the regular season — denied dodging its hated rival, The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy reported that they declined a chance to renew the Border War.

Getting the Razorbacks was probably a solid consolation prize for the Liberty Bowl because its proximity to the University of Arkansas. Fayetteville is less than a 5-hour drive from Memphis, which is just across the Mississippi River from the Natural State. That means it is an even easier trip for those in central and east Arkansas.

The last time Arkansas and Kansas played in football was just after the turn of the century — the 20th century. They played a home-and-home series in 1905 and 1906, with the Jayhawks winning both. First, they won a 6-0 game in Fayetteville and then had a more convincing 27-5 win in Lawrence.

As for this matchup, here are five things to know about the Kansas football team that will play the Razorbacks in the Liberty Bowl…

1. Vastly Different 6-6 Seasons by Arkansas, Kansas

Despite Arkansas and Kansas both going 6-6, the two fan bases probably feel much differently about the two seasons.

Coming off a nine-win season capped by an Outback Bowl victory, the Razorbacks had their sights set on much more in 2022. Losses to the likes of Texas A&M, Liberty and Missouri, though, marred the season and has effectively ended the honeymoon period for Sam Pittman.

On the flip side, simply winning a couple of games would have been a success for Kansas. The Jayhawks’ preseason win total was set at 2.5 and they hadn’t won more than three games since 2009.

Over that 12-year span, Kansas went just 23-118 (.163) and was widely seen as the worst Power Five program in the country. It also hadn’t won multiple Big 12 games since 2008, which was the last time it made a bowl game.

That’s all to say that a 6-6 record with a 3-6 mark in conference play is viewed much different in Lawrence than in Fayetteville.

2. Special Season Derailed by QB Injury

Of course, it’s worth noting that Kansas actually started the season 5-0 and was one of the best stories in college football. In fact, with an undefeated TCU coming to town on Oct. 8, College GameDay visited Lawrence for the first time ever.

Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, that’s when things spiraled. Star quarterback Jalon Daniels suffered a shoulder injury midway through that game and they lost 38-31 on a touchdown with 1:36 remaining.

That was the start of a stretch in which Kansas lost six of its final seven games of the season. Its lone victory the rest of the way was a 37-16 beatdown of Oklahoma State to get bowl eligible.

Daniels ended up returning for the final two games of the regular season, but they were blown out by Texas (55-14) and Kansas State (47-27). In eight games, he has completed 65.7% of his passes for 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions this season, plus added 404 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

That works out to 234.3 yards of offense per game and his 158.5 passer rating would rank 15th nationally if he played in enough games to qualify. He was named to the All-Big 12 second team by the league’s coaches.

It’s worth noting that backup quarterback Jason Bean, who was actually on the 2018 North Texas team that embarrassed a Chad Morris-led Arkansas team, played well in Daniels’ absence. He has completed 64.4% of his passes for 1,280 yards, 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, giving him an impressive 172.4 passer rating, plus added 222 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

3. Defense Optional in Liberty Bowl

The Liberty Bowl will be a matchup of the two worst bowl-eligible Power Five defenses in the country.

Arkansas’ injury-riddled defense gave up 28.8 points on 453.3 yards per game this season, which ranks 90th and 123rd nationally, respectively. On the flip side, Kansas ranks 119th (33.8 ppg) and 121st (451.7 ypg) in the FBS for those categories.

Something that should be music to Arkansas football fans’ ears is the fact that opponents rushed for 32 touchdowns against Kansas, the fifth-most allowed by any FBS team. The Jayhawks also gave up 193.8 rushing yards per game, the fifth-worst mark in the Power Five.

Another noteworthy defensive statistic: Kansas has the eighth-worst third-down defense in the country, as opponents are converting 46.9% of the time.

4. Kansas Defensive Players to Watch

Despite the defense’s struggles, Kansas still has a pair of all-conference players on that side of the ball that could wreak havoc on the Razorbacks if they’re not careful.

Sophomore cornerback Cobee Bryant was actually the Jayhawks’ lone first-team All-Big 12 selection by the league’s coaches. He had three interceptions and eight pass breakups to go along with his 34 tackles.

It’s probably safe to assume he’ll be matched up with Matt Landers, which makes that one of the most intriguing one-on-one battles in the game. According to Pro Football Focus, opponents have completed only 36 of 63 passes when targeting him in coverage. 

Up front, the Razorbacks will have to find a way to block defensive end Lonnie Phelps, a second-team All-Big 12 selection. He is the Jayhawks’ best defensive player, according to PFF, with a 76.2 overall grade. PFF credits him with 29 total pressures and he officially has 10.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and five quarterback hurries.

5. Evenly Distributed Passing Attack

Whether it’s been Jalon Daniels or Jason Bean at quarterback, Kansas hasn’t had a single go-to receiver, but rather multiple targets capable of hurting opponents.

The Jayhawks have five different pass catchers with 16-42 receptions, 218-597 yards and 3-5 touchdowns. That group includes a trio of wide receivers — Lawrence Arnold, Luke Grimm and Quentin Skinner — and a pair of tight ends in Mason Fairchild and Jared Casey.

Arnold leads the team with 597 receiving yards, but Grimm has a team-high 42 receptions and is tied with Skinner and Fairchild for the team lead with 5 touchdown receptions.

Here’s the breakdown of their stat lines:

  • Lawrence Arnold: 36 receptions, 597 yards (16.6 avg.), 4 TD
  • Luke Grimm: 42 receptions, 456 yards (10.9 avg.), 5 TD
  • Quentin Skinner: 25 receptions, 436 yards (17.4 avg.), 5 TD
  • Mason Fairchild: 29 receptions, 363 yards (12.5 avg.), 5 TD
  • Jared Casey: 16 receptions, 218 yards (13.6 avg.), 3 TD

Pro Football Focus recognizes Kansas as one of the best pass-catching teams in the country, giving it an 84.9 receiving grade as a team. That ranks fifth behind Wake Forest (88.7), Ohio State (88.7), Ohio (88.0) and UTSA (86.4).

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