Illinois Football: Pregame grades for the Kansas Jayhawks offense

Sep 1, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Missouri State Bears at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 1, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs for a touchdown during the first half against the Missouri State Bears at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports /

With week one now in the books, the Illinois football team can focus on the Kansas Jayhawks.

Kansas had a resurgence last season, and they started the 2023 campaign off on the right foot. What will the Illini be facing on Friday night, though? Will this Kansas offense be able to move the ball up and down the field with ease?

Here is what the Illinois football team will face, as these are the pregame grades of the Kansas Jayhawks offense

  • Quarterback – Passing B, Running B+, Overall B+

It looks like the Kansas Jayhawks are getting back their starting quarterback on Friday. After missing week one with back spasms, Jalon Daniels is going to be under center for the Jayhawks.

The junior quarterback was the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, and he will be itching to get ahold of the Illinois defense.

Last season, Daniels threw for 2,014 yards, 18 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He had a completion rate of 66.1%, which is a pretty good number. The running ability for Daniels sets him apart as well.

Daniels finished 2022 with 77 carries for 419 yards and seven touchdowns. His 5.4 yards per carry is impressive for a quarterback.

Illinois just struggled a bit with a quarterback who can move around and threaten the team with both the arm and legs. Kansas just became more dangerous.

  • Running Back – Running A, Catching B+, Overall A-

Kansas’ one-two punch of Daniels and running back Devin Neal in 2022 was solid for the program. With Daniels’ dual-threat ability, this opened things up for Neal to dominate on the ground.

Neal finished the 2022 campaign with 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns. He managed to hit 6.1 yards per carry as well. In game one of this season, the Jayhawks didn’t even need Neal for the entire game.

Kansas won 48-17 over Missouri State, and Neal rushed for 94 yards on 13 carries. He also got into the end zone for a score. I wouldn’t discount Neal’s ability to catch the ball either. He had three receptions for 25 yards and another score through the air.

The Jayhawks have a nice stable of running backs. Sevion Morrison, Dylan McDuffie, and Daniel Hishaw Jr., all had at least 29 yards on the ground, and they all rushed for at least 5.1 yards per carry.

This is a dangerous ground attack coming from Kansas. Illinois will have their hands full on Friday night.

  • Tight End – Overall B

The tight end position was used a lot in the Kansas offense in 2022. Their third and fifth-leading pass catchers for the season were from the tight end position.

Those two players, Mason Fairchild and Jared Casey, are back in Lawrence this season as well. In the first game of the season, Kansas didn’t use these two big-time tight ends a lot. In fact, the leading tight end against Missouri State was backup Trevor Kardell who had two receptions for 22 yards.

Fairchild, the starter, only had two receptions for 21 yards in game one. That is a stark contrast from his 35 receptions for 443 yards and six touchdowns last season.

I think the tight end position is pretty strong for the Jayhawks. I am not going to let week one fool me. With Daniels back under center, look for the tight ends to be utilized more against the Illini.

  • Wide Receiver – Overall B-

The numbers from the Kansas wide receivers in 2022 don’t blow me away. The top pass catcher was Lawrence Arnold who had 44 receptions for 716 yards and four touchdowns.

Kansas returned most of their talent from the 2022 campaign. Arnold is back. The No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers, Luke Grimm and Quentin Skinner, are also back with the Jayhawks. All three contributed big-time snaps against Missouri State.

Arnold and Skinner both had four receptions for 77 yards receiving against the Bears. Grimm also had four receptions but his was for 33 yards and a touchdown.

Kansas does a good job spreading the ball out. Nine different players, four of which were wide receivers, were able to catch a pass in week one. This is a solid unit for the Jayhawks.

  • Offensive Line – Overall A+

Coming into the 2023 campaign, Kansas had one of the best offensive lines in the country. They only allowed one sack per game in 2022, which ranked No. 10 in the nation. On top of that, the Jayhawks had a great running attack.

That hasn’t changed much this season either. Most of the talent from the Kansas offensive line returned this season led by left tackle Dominick Puni and center Mike Novitsky, both of whom are preseason All-Big 12 players.

Kansas also has multiple players who started at least nine games last season in Michael Ford Jr. at right guard and Bryce Cabeldue at right tackle. The only weakness might be at left guard, but even at that, Kobe Baynes is rated as the No. 6 guard in the country after week one.

The offensive line is the strength of the Kansas offense. They can win battles up front, and Illinois is going to have a hard time getting to the ball carrier.

Next. 3 key numbers for the Illini to beat Kansas. dark