When Lance Leipold took over the soccer program in Kansas for the first time four months ago, he kept hearing from people on the team about the potential of a newbie Redshirt recipient who only made six catches last season.
Friday evening during Leipold’s first game against the Jayhawks, the head coach saw why the enthusiasm for Lawrence Arnold was not just hype.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound wideout from DeSoto, Texas caught both touchdown passes from quarterback Jason Bean, including the game-winning reception against South Dakota in a 17-14 season opening win at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Photo by Nick Krug
Leipold thought Arnold, who didn’t start or play as many snaps as other KU recipients, had “a damn good game” after missing a few exercises in the past few weeks due to some shoulder pain.
“But you see the length he gives in that position,” Leipold said of Arnold, who ended up with three catches for 33 yards. “He’s got athleticism to make plays. Very confident. “
Many in the program thought in 2020, when Arnold was a real freshman, that he would break through with the big games he made for the Jayhawks on Friday. But a shoulder injury at the end of the season ended his season after four games.
Arnold’s availability for Week 1 of 2021 even came into question during the preseason when a sore shoulder caused him to stop training. Arnold came back to the field only a few days before the start.
“I knew it was something that I would act out, something that I would enforce,” Arnold said of the pain. “And I wouldn’t give up my team.”
The Jayhawks (1-0) stared at a possible home defeat to an FCS opponent at the end of the fourth quarter before Arnold found his way into the end zone for the second time with 1:10 to go. Arnold had positioned himself far to the right and realized that the Coyotes had a cover 3 look. With super-senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II in the slot to Arnold’s left, he thought Lassiter would dislodge nearby security as the game progressed, which would give Arnold the one-on-one match he wanted.
Arnold was right. And when Bean’s pass found his arms nine yards from the end zone, Arnold turned and hit the USD defense to the goal line.
“I always go by to miss a man. Miss the first guy, ”said Arnold when he got away with the must-have TD. “I just walked past it and I live by it.”
The KU offensive was listless for the vast majority of the first half before Bean found Arnold open in the end zone for an eight-yard TD with 24 seconds to half.
Junior tight-end Mason Fairchild said Arnold has proven to be a reliable target for Bean, “especially down in that red zone.”
“He did an incredible job tonight,” said Fairchild.
Since KU’s rushing attack (82 yards as a team) was mostly ineffective – Bean led at 54 rushing yards and USD capped the junior who brought Velton Gardner back to 21 yards with his 19 carries – the Jayhawks needed their passing game to get in the crunch -Time to get through. On the final drive, Bean found Trevor Wilson for 17 yards, Fairchild for 20, and Arnold for 16 more yards.
Bean said Arnold “got really big for us.” The QB thought the young recipient worked hard all week to make sure they were ready and able to contribute.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” said Bean of Arnold. “I’m just grateful that he’s on our side.”
KU football v. South Dakota
View a photo gallery of the Jayhawks’ 17-14 win over the Coyotes on Friday night.
KU’s new starting QB looked in Arnold’s direction five times in the win. The redshirt freshman said he just wanted to be a solid target for Bean.
“This really is the biggest thing when it comes to a quarterback and a receiver,” Arnold said of her development chemistry. “It’s like throwing and catching in the back yard. You have to be trustworthy, you have to be reliable. “
After watching Arnold from a distance for most of the 2020 season and having no chance of making any significant impact, Arnold felt rejuvenated after winning in Week 1.
“It felt great to be back on the field with my team in this atmosphere and in this environment,” he said. “Just to get out there and help us get a dub. I feel we all played a big part in that. “