LAWRENCE, Kan. — There have been plenty of years that Kansas has struggled to beat teams from the Football Championship Subdivision to open the season, and second-year coach Lance Leipold is keenly aware of that fact.
Maybe that's why he didn't mince words when it came to assessing a 56-10 romp over Tennessee Tech on Friday night.
“You play who is on the schedule and you go from there. It's a game we should win by that margin and we did that," Leipold said. “We know this program hasn't had enough wins to be overly critical of how it plays out.”
There wasn't much to be critical about against the Golden Eagles.
Jalon Daniels threw for 182 yards with touchdowns on the ground and through the air before giving way to backup Jason Bean, who added a TD run of his own. Devin Neal took a handoff 80 yards for a score and finished with 108 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Nebraska transfer Sevion Morrison and Daniel Hishaw also reached the end zone.
Kansas even got a 61-yard TD return by Jacobee Bryant off a blocked field goal that set the tone early.
“We've talked about just gaining confidence and this team hasn't had a lot of that,” said Leipold, whose team piled up 297 yards rushing and 502 total yards. “This is definitely a step in the right direction.”
The Jayhawks' revamped defense was just as good: Golden Eagles starter Jeremiah Oatsvall was just 10-of-18 passing for 76 yards with a TD and an interception. The Jayhawks held Tennessee Tech to 93 yards rushing on 43 carries.
“I told our guys, ‘We played the best football team were going to play all year,’ ” Golden Eagles coach Dewayne Alexander said. “There were some things we’ll show big improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, but our guys did fight.”
After more than a decade of just about everything going wrong, the Jayhawks must have felt good about a first half — albeit against a lower-level opponent — in which just about everything went right.
Daniels connected on 14 of 15 passes for 182 yards, scoring on an 11-yard second-quarter run before passing to Mason Fairchild for a 2-yard score. Three different Jayhawks reached the end zone on the ground. And when Bryant scooped up that blocked field goal late in the first quarter and returned it 61 yards for a score, Kansas had its first such touchdown since Patrick Brown did it against Oklahoma in 1996.
Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks' rebuilt defense shut down the Golden Eagles.
Kansas forced a three-and-out on Tennessee Tech's first two possessions, then blocked the field goal on the next. And after Tennessee Tech finally converted a field goal to make it 21-3, the Jayhawks forced two more three-and-outs.
The second half wasn't nearly as clean for Kansas. Daniels nearly fumbled the ball away on their first possession before Jacob Borcila missed a 40-yard field-goal try, then the Jayhawks' quarterback threw a pick on his very next snap.
But the Golden Eagles missed a chip-shot field-goal attempt of their own, and on the Jayhawks' next offensive play, Neal split the defense over the right side and ran untouched 80 yards for the score.
“We executed at a high level,” Neal said. “We obviously made mistakes. I won't ever be satisfied. But where we are compared to last year, it's night and day.”
Tennessee Tech: The Golden Eagles were pushed around at the line of scrimmage while making far too many mistakes on special teams. The blocked field goal was the big one, but Devin Parker's miss on a 29-yarder in the second half hardly helped.
Kansas: The Jayhawks revamped their defense with an influx of Division I transfers, and several made a difference. Lonnie Phelps, a pass rusher from Miami-Ohio, had three sacks and four tackles-for-loss. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Craig Young was always near the ball. And Eriq Gilyard, a transfer from Central Florida, picked off a pass early in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee Tech: The Golden Eagles play their home opener Sept. 10 against Texas A&M-Commerce.
Kansas: The Jayhawks visit West Virginia on Sept. 10 for their Big 12 opener.