KU's Confidence, Game Plan Combine to Beat MU

It wasn't exactly USC-Notre Dame, but for a Kansas team that hadn't seen their home turf - let alone a win - since mid-September, it was a rivalry game win that was just as much fun.

For KU fans and alums, it solidifies office bragging rights for a third straight year.  And for KU coach Mark Mangino, the vultures have at least momentarily stopped circling.

“It was a great day at Memorial Stadium, another win over our border rival.  It’s a great day to be a Jayhawk and I’m very proud of our players and their toughness – their mental and physical toughness.  I can’t praise their effort enough today,” bubbled Mangino.  And yes, he was bubbling.

For MU fans, it’s another year of having to listen to those arrogant Beakers who managed to beat them with an inferior team (again) and a lousy coach (again) in a game that really didn’t matter (again), what with Colorado and the Big 12 North title on the horizon. 

Suddenly, it’s Gary Pinkel, not Mark Mangino, who may be on the hot seat after losing to his archrival – and looking bad doing it.

Make no mistake: this game was big.  And not just for KU.

Once again, Kansas head football coach Mark Mangino and his staff game-planned their way to a win over the Tigers.  Sorry, folks, but let’s face it: Kansas doesn’t have as much talent as Missouri, from top to bottom.  Missouri has some scary talent two and even three deep at a few positions.

However, Bill Young and his staff do have an experienced, confident, very intelligent group.  Young and his coaches put together a game plan that, while sort of funky, kept MU quarterback Brad Smith from utilizing his two most lethal weapons – his legs – and made him use a squirt gun – his arm – instead to beat the Hawks.

Keeping in mind that Mangino has been around some pretty salty defenses in his day, he almost struggled for the words to assess the work of the defense.

“I had never been around a defensive unit that executed their game plan exactly the way it was set up and practiced all week,” the coach said.  “It was nearly flawless.  Unbelievable!  I don’t think I’ve ever been around a defensive unit that executed the game plan near perfection.”

And the offense?  While no one will confuse them with the old run-n-shoot Houston Cougars, much-maligned Nick Quartaro’s group scored two touchdowns for the first time since Appalachian State.  Most importantly, however, KU’s offense kept the ball out of Smith’s hands, dominated the time-of-possession war by nearly 10 minutes and kept the defense tanned, rested and ready to chase the Tiger quarterback very effectively when they needed to.

But KU’s two recent dominant wins over MU no doubt played a key role in Saturday’s victory on both sides of the ball.

“They (the players) knew they were gonna win the game,” Mangino said, matter-of-factly.  “They talked about winning the game last Sunday.  They were bent on doing it, they were glad to be back home and they were tired of not winning,”

He continued, “They deserved to win today.  We played well.  And it wasn’t a game where you could say, ‘We’re not sure.’  We deserved to win today’s game.”

Remember when you were a kid – no matter how bad things got or no matter how many games you’d lost, you knew that there was one team you were going to beat?  A healthy dose of MU now seems to be the annual remedy for anything that may ail KU’s football team at any given time time. 

For Missouri, it was a wise, wise woman who once said, “Oops, I did it again.”

Mistakes, both mental and physical, dogged Missouri all day.  Every time they’d start to move the football, something bad would happen.  A hold on 1st-and-10 makes it 1st-and-20, and Brad Smith has to do something he’s not very good at: throw the football.

This snake-bit attitude was never more evident than in the second half, when it basically killed MU’s chances of pulling out a win.  Three prime examples:

  • Nearing the end of the 3rd quarter with Kansas leading 6-3, MU moves the ball from their own 33 to near midfield.  On the option, Brad Smith attempts to make a pitch, only to have KU’s Aqib Talib step in and intercept it.  Six plays and 43 yards later, John Cornish bangs in from the one to put KU on top to start the 4th quarter.
  • On the next possession, MU effortlessly moved the ball from their own 20 to near midfield.  But on 1st-and-10 at the MU 45, center Adam Spieker shot-gunned the ball over Brad Smith’s head for a 21-yard loss.  Suddenly, it’s 2nd-and-31.  Brad Smith is forced to pass, and MU punts.
  • Finally, with 6:14 left in the game, Brad Smith single-handedly moved Missouri from their own 20 to the Kansas 36 with his legs and short passes.  On 1st-and-10 at the 36, MU coach Gary Pinkel decides that throwing the ball into the end zone against a 20 MPH wind will outsmart everyone.  It outsmarted Theo Baines so badly that Baines intercepted the ball at the one yard line.

Between just knowing that Missouri would eventually make a mistake when they had the ball, and knowing Gary Pinkel was on the Missouri sideline, you had to like the Jayhawks’ chances.

On the Tiger side of the ball, MU still finds themselves 5-3 – just one game away from bowl eligibility – and one game back in the Big 12 North.  Most teams would love to be in their jean shorts.

However, if you’re a Missouri fan, you need to be nervous.

Next week, you make the road trip to Boulder to take on North division leader Colorado.  By no means, a gimme.  They can hang 40 on you in a big hurry.

Then the Tigers take on Baylor at home.  Baylor is no longer an automatic win, thanks to a quick, physical, assignment-sound defense eerily similar to KU’s.  Look for the Baylor coaches to review the KU game tape.  Over and over and over.

Finally, MU wraps up the season at Wagner Field against Kansas State, another Kansas team that has held the upper hand in recent years.  And this game could very well pit two 5-5 teams in a bowl elimination game.

Gary Pinkel may very well get his 6th win and a bowl trip.  After a third bad loss to their archrival, will that be enough to keep him off the unemployment line?

These two teams are battling for their postseason lives, and the next three weeks will be huge on both sides of the border.  But I’d bet one team is going to play loose and have fun.  The other may very well be very tight from here on out.  I’ll let you guess which will be which.

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