LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jason Bean could have transferred out of Kansas after losing the starting quarterback job to Jalon Daniels. Instead, Bean stuck around and never allowed his head to drop, slotting in as the backup QB and even playing a bit of wide receiver.
His decision paid off Friday night.
Still dealing with a back injury, Daniels sat out the Jayhawks' season-opener against Missouri State, and Bean responded by throwing for 276 yards and two touchdowns while helping Kansas overcome a slow start in a 48-17 victory over the Bears.
“How many times have I talked about Jason Bean's improvement? I have,” Jayhawks coach Lance Leipold said. “He continues to get better. He's done everything we've asked. You've seen him get more mature and more confident.”
Bean, who began his career at North Texas, leaned on his experience as a sixth-year senior to make a successful spot start.
"I've been through a lot. I've played a lot of snaps," he said. "Just utilized that experience that I have."
As for Daniels, the preseason Big 12 offensive player of the year, it remained unclear whether he would be available against Illinois next Friday. He has been limited throughout the fall and spent the opener wearing a headset on the sideline.
“He's feeling better, OK? Jalon is feeling better,” Leipold said, “but there weren't enough practice reps to feel comfortable."
Devin Neal had touchdowns on the ground and through the air the Jayhawks, and Dylan McDuffie, Daniel Hishaw and Sevion Morrison also reached the end zone, as they opened a season of high expectations by struggling much of the way against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision that had a losing record a year ago.
Missouri State, led by new coach Ryan Beard, took advantage of an early turnover and fourth-down stop to take a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. But the Jayhawks proved to be too much, putting the game away in the fourth quarter.
“You come out and compete the first half, do some good things, move the ball on offense, get the stops you need,” Beard said, “and then you come out the second half and it’s disappointing football. You have to compete for two halves.”
The Bears' Jacob Clark threw for 143 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But the first-time starter, who also ran for 36 yards, didn't get much help. Running back Jakardia Wright was held to 23 yards on 15 carries.
The Jayhawks looked more like their many downtrodden teams of yesteryear during the first half, rather than Lance Leipold's breakout bunch that started 5-0 last season and went to a bowl game for the first time in more than a decade.
They jumped to a 7-0 lead on Neal's 48-yard run, but then fumbled the ball away on their next possession and got stuffed on fourth down on the next. Missouri State turned the turnover into a short touchdown pass and the defensive stand into a field goal, taking a 10-7 lead before a suddenly quiet crowd inside Memorial Stadium.
Kansas needed three plays to go 75 yards for an answer, though, and a field goal made it 17-10 at the break.
The Jayhawks pushed the lead to 27-10 in the third quarter. And after Missouri State's Jmariyae Robinson added a TD run to his earlier scoring reception in the fourth quarter, the Jayhawks took advantage of two picks over the final 15 minutes to reach the end zone twice more and put the game away.
“I was proud of our coaches and players because we didn't flinch,” Leipold said. “There was no panic. We stayed the course.”
Kansas defensive coordinator Brian Borland missed the game because of a medical procedure, Leipold said. “We knew it was going to be happening. Unfortunately it was delayed. The procedure took place yesterday. He's doing well. He's at home,” Leipold added. “We expect him to be back in the building very soon.”
Missouri State: Nobody quite knew what to expect when Beard was promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Bobby Petrino, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. But the Bears were fundamentally sound against a bigger, faster team from a Power Five conference, and that bodes well as they return to FCS play.
Kansas: There were too many miscues for the Jayhawks to feel comfortable until the fourth quarter. Bean was 22 of 28 through the air but rarely had a clean pocket. Hishaw's fumble was costly, as were some penalties at inopportune times.
Missouri State heads to Tennessee-Martin on Sept. 9.
Kansas plays the Fighting Illini next Friday night.