In how many “showdowns” do the visiting bands get pelted with ‘D’ batteries? And in how many “showdowns” does a coach take a bus and ram through a stadium fence to park it on the sideline to keep players warm in a blizzard (ask Coach Fam about that one). Of course the rivalry itself started with ties to skirmishes and full-blown battles around the Civil War, many of which left members on both sides dead (on the flip side, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry stems from an argument over a small strip of land where there was no blood, though people did apparently yell loudly and gesture).
No, the Border War is just that, though this one will be a “showdown” of arguably the two top teams in the Big 12, giving the rivalry national meaning, as opposed to nobody caring about the game in the nation’s other 48 states. Top that off with your typical Kansas-Missouri hatred and you have a recipe for what could be the best rivalry game this year, and all squeezed inside a packed Arrowhead Stadium where the atmosphere may be at the same time electric and dangerous.
This one is for the Big 12 North title sure, and a chance at a national championship berth. But at its heart, it’s still Kansas-Missouri, and that’s the most important part.
Here are this week’s matchups:
1) The edge of the Kansas defense versus Tony Temple, running back
This seemed to be the biggest difference between the two teams last year. Missouri, through runs and short passes, was able to isolate Kansas’s defensive ends and linebackers. Those players were often in the right position to make plays, but couldn’t finish things off by making a tackle in space. The Tigers will try to do the same thing this year, especially with the run. While Missouri’s pass offense seems to always put up great numbers, the Tigers struggle to put teams away when they can’t run the ball. Missouri has only been held under 140 yards rushing three times this year, once in a loss to Oklahoma, and again in close games with Illinois and Iowa State. Kansas has won games all year by loading up to stop the run first, holding opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game. Stop the run, and the Jayhawks will be on a good start.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas needs to control the ball to wear down Missouri’s defensive quickness and keep the Tigers’ explosive offense off the field. Of course, that won’t be an easy task. The Tigers have the conference’s number four rushing defense, and allow just 3.7 yards per carry. But if anyone can do it, it’s the Jayhawks, who have two of the Big 12’s top eight rushers. Expect Kansas to run a lot of counters and misdirection runs angling through the line, much like the Jayhawks did against Kansas State, to force the Tigers to react rather than coming full speed ahead. But the running backs’ duties don’t stop there. They’ll also be at least partially responsible for keeping the jersey of Todd Reesing clean when Missouri comes with the blitz.
Missouri has two of the country’s top tight ends in Rucker and Coffman, who have combined for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns this year. What makes them so dangerous is that they line up to the outside, often getting matchups against smaller defensive backs or less athletic linebackers. Of course they always have the height advantage – how many 6-foot-6 linebackers and safeties do you see out there. You’re not totally going to eliminate their touches, but teams that can control an opposing quarterback’s safety blankets usually do pretty well. Kansas has had a mixed bag when it came to defending tight ends this year. You hardly heard a peep from Oklahoma State star Brandon Pettigrew, while Texas A&M’s Martellus Bennett helped to bring the Aggies back to make that one a game. The Jayhawks will need to slow those two down to have a chance of slowing down Missouri’s passing attack.
4) Todd Reesing, quarterback, versus Chase Daniel, quarterback
OK, sure, these two guys don’t actually play each other. But both are captaining explosive offenses and need to bring their ‘A’ games to this gunfight. Daniel probably has more dangerous players on his side, but Reesing isn’t lacking for support. Both quarterbacks, referred to by every single media outlet in the country as “sawed off” (it was clever the first 5,000 times, really), are fantastic talents by all accounts. While both have strong arms, it’s their accuracy, their moxie and their ability to respond when the other team makes a play that makes them special. Reesing and Daniel also need to be active in a leadership role. A game like this can change awfully quickly with the weapons involved, and often the team with the leveler head, the one that deals best with adversity, comes out with the win.
And of course, nobody can help to create adversity for the other team more than a big play guy. Kansas and Missouri have two of the conference’s and nation’s most dangerous return men. Maclin, a redshirt freshman with 4.3-second speed, averages nearly 210 yards per game in total offense. He has taken back two punts and one kickoff to paydirt this year. Meanwhile, Herford is one of the country’s top kickoff returners, and has two touchdowns to show for it. Herford almost single-handedly kept the Jayhawks in the mix for much of last year’s game with a pair of big returns that set the Jayhawks up in great field position. Both are huge X-factors in the return game because, let’s face it, nothing is more demoralizing than driving for a touchdown, only to have it nullified on the following kickoff. Maclin adds more in the passing game and returns punts, but Herford could be equally huge if he has another big day.
Both teams, on the surface at least, appear to be awfully equal. It’s one of the reasons Vegas is having such a difficult time separating them. Expect tons of big plays and a lot of offense, where any defensive stop is seen as a huge victory (of course, half of these offensive showcases turn into 20-14 games). While the Tigers have more firepower, I think Kansas’s defense, and its play in the trenches, wins this one.