PHOENIX — With the rain slightly drizzling down and the wind howling in the Valley of the Sun, head coach Lance Leipold and company strolled down the tarmac on a royal blue carpet.
In their second straight bowl appearance, the Jayhawks want to avenge their heartbreaking triple-overtime loss to Arkansas in last year’s Liberty Bowl.
“To battle back to resolve and the resiliency that we showed was something I was extremely proud of. We left that field (and) locker room with an emptiness that we didn't quite get it done,” Leipold said. “I know for our guys who were a part of that game last year, it’s gonna be important to play well and finish the job this year.”
With the national eyes set on Kansas yet again, it is important to note the program's jump over the past few years as a football program.
“It’s a mark of consistency that it wasn’t a one-time flash. We want to build a program that is going to be stable for many years. This is definitely a program on the rise,” Leipold said.
Playing in a bowl game is a privilege and honor of excellence for any college football team, but also it is an opportunity for players to display all their hard work and effort throughout the season. Not only will this season’s blood, sweat, and tears be shown, but also be a chance to gain valuable experience here in Phoenix be evident.
“I think everyone does (has something to gain),” Leipold said. “When you get a chance to play, in our case, a 13th game, on the national stage in a bowl game is always a great chance for (this) opportunity,” Leipold said.
Leipold specifically noted senior quarterback Jason Bean and the strides he has made throughout the season.
“When I look at our seniors," Leipold began. "I look at a guy like Jason Bean, who’s played extremely well.”
This season Bean has thrown for 1,681 yards and 12 touchdowns, while only throwing four interceptions. In a season where star junior quarterback Jalon Daniels was set to have the keys to the system, Bean stepped up, greatly.
Bean fits the Kansas system perfectly, with his ability to be an overall threat on the field with his ability to both pass and escape the pocket.
“Yes, I do,” Leipold said when asked if there were any similarities between Bean and Daniels. “I think when somebody has an option, you know, schemes in their game, there’s a natural attraction to that they’re similar. They cause stress on the defense and they’ve been very opportunistic.”
Every year Bean has been in the Leipold system, he has improved his on-the-field production. In 2021-22, where he started nine games, Bean only threw for 1,252 yards and only six touchdowns to go along with his six interceptions. The following season, Bean saw limited starting action, but greatly improved his passing touchdowns by eight and took care of the ball better.
Bean also led a game-winning drive over then-No. 6 Oklahoma and was even named to honorable mention all-Big 12.
This season, Bean is on pace for career highs in touchdowns and starts, but more importantly the chance to win Kansas their first bowl game.
Not only is Leipold impressed with Bean, but also with All-Big 12 players senior offensive lineman Dominick Puni and sophomore defensive lineman Austin Booker.
“Both players have been extremely productive players for us. Dominick played guard last year and played tackle this year. To see him excel a the qualified level is great to see,” Leipold said. “Austin is a pass rush specialist and had a big time year for us.”
Leipold also emphasized the senior class as a whole as they have a chance to win the first bowl game in the program’s history.
“I think when you look at some of the upperclassmen and you have a chance to have one more time and evaluation out, that’s always good,” Leipold said.
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