The Kansas Jayhawks had a honeydew list of things they had to do in order to win the Border War at Arrowhead Saturday night. At the end of the evening, their list looked a lot like mine at bedtime Sunday.
There's not a lot of sunshine to pump after a nationally-televised 36-28 Missouri win over the Jayhawks. Don't let the final score fool you; it wasn't that close. The bigger, stronger, faster Tigers pushed around and perhaps intimidated the upstart Jayhawks, particularly for the first 30 minutes of the game. KU was lucky to go into halftime down just 14-0. It could've been – and probably should've been – worse.
Here's what I thought KU had to do to win:
- KU must get off to a good start.
- Limit mistakes; play smart.
- Don't leave points on the field.
- Keep MU's Chase Daniel off the field by running the football.
- Limit MU's running game to make them one-dimensional.
- Don't give Daniel all day.
Get off to a good start: This was priority one, in my mind. The Jayhawks offense became known as the season progressed for taking awhile to warm up to the game. A slow start against Missouri's high-octane offense could prove disastrous. It did. Kansas spotted MU 21 points before finally getting on the board themselves halfway through the third period. By then, they'd dug themselves into a very deep hole. The bottom line is, KU did the one thing they absolutely could not afford to do against the Tigers.
Limit mistakes, play smart: KU needed to do what they'd done all season, which was hold onto the ball and limit penalties. KU was flagged just twice but after 213 pass attempts without a pick, Todd Reesing threw two Saturday night. Both led to Missouri touchdowns. Making it an even tougher pill to swallow, both also came on possessions on which Kansas was inside the Tiger 30 and moving the ball effectively.
Don't leave points on the field: Speaking of inside the Mizzou 30, KU had four straight possessions – not just four possessions, but four straight possessions – on which they were inside the Missouri 30 and came away with no points.
Two of them ended with Reesing interceptions, and the other two were punctuated with missed field goals of 33 and 45 yards by senior Scott Webb. Those missed kicks looked huge later in the game when Kansas scored a TD with 2:03 left to make it a six-point game. It's safe to say this wasn't the way Webb wanted to finish his career in front of what was alleged to be a home crowd but was really 55/45 Missouri.
Run the football: You can't score if you don't have the ball, and the best way to keep the Tigers from scoring is to keep Heisman hopeful Chase Daniel and his multiple playmakers on the sideline. Jake Sharp, Brandon McAnderson and the KU offensive line had to have a good night. They didn't. KU ended up with 42 yards rushing for the game.
The Jayhawks offensive line struggled to open holes all night long. BMac managed just 41 yards on 14 carries.
As for Jake Sharp, he had one yard on one carry. One carry? Someone's going to have to explain that one to me. Against a very fast Tiger defense, Mark Mangino and Ed Warriner decided to make Brandon McAnderson the workhorse. McAnderson is a terrific player and an even better young man, but his 40 is timed with a calendar. Against a team as fast as MU, you need a back who can find the smallest crease and hit it quickly. Jake Sharp is the guy to do that; Brandon McAnderson simply isn't.
Limit MU's running game: On the flip side, Missouri's offensive line owned the KU front four. The Tigers rushing attack did what they needed to do to provide run/pass balance and then some. MU senior Tony Temple ran hard and effectively, finishing with 98 yards. As a team, Missouri had 151 yards rushing.
Don't give Chase Daniel all day: Did I mention MU's o-line owned Kansas' front four? Daniel was sacked twice Saturday night, both times by blitzing KU linebackers. The Jayhawks' defensive line never got close enough to introduce themselves to Daniel. The lack of pressure on the quarterback from the d-line has been a problem for KU all season, but Daniel is simply too good. If you give a quarterback like him six and seven seconds to find a receiver, and if you give receivers like Jeremy Maclin, Dana Alexander and Martin Rucker that long to get open, bad things will happen.
KU blitzed a lot more in the second half – Mike Rivera was especially effective in wreaking some havoc upfront for the Tigers – but again, it was too little, too late.
The one Mark Mangino benchmark that the Jayhawks did keep up Saturday night was that they didn't quit and they didn't panic. Perhaps are positives to be gained from getting down by a significant deficit early, although I'm hard-pressed to figure out what they are. Yes, the Jayhawks served notice that they won't roll over and that they have the firepower to close a deficit in a hurry. However, Roy Williams – the coach, not the receiver – used to say, "There's nothing you can learn by losing that you can't learn by winning." I'm inclined to agree.
All season long, I'd told anyone who would listen (and a few who wouldn't) that if KU was going to lose, it was going to be because they played a better team, not because they played poorly. It turns out I was right and wrong: they played poorly against a better team.