No. 112 for MU-KU has new meaning

Insert cliche here. You can throw out the records, you can forget the ranking, etc., when Missouri and Kansas meet. But this time, you can't, because both these teams have a lot more on the line than a marching drum.

Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri cornerback Michael Harden stayed on the fence of the Missouri-Kansas football rivalry.

Missouri football was, well, Missouri football. Kansas football was, well, Kansas football. In other words, neither was very good. He had a much bigger interest in the two schools' basketball teams, which were both competitive.

Things have changed. When Missouri goes to Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday, it will be the first time both teams went into the game with high hopes in a long time.

Then again, like it has mattered too much of late. Last season, Missouri beat the Jayhawks 36-12, a win that put the Tigers at 4-4. The loss dropped Kansas to 2-7. Yet it didn't stop the Missouri players and fans from tearing down the north goalpost at Faurot Field.

Yeah, this game is important. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel remembers how important boosters and staff stressed this game when he was hired.

"I had 50 people in 15 minutes say, ‘How you doin? Beat Kansas,'" Pinkel said.

"I figured it out really fast."

Pinkel hasn't lost to the Jayhawks yet, but his Tigers will see the best installment of Kansas players any of the Tigers have seen, including the 2000 team that beat Missouri 38-17.

"They're very good," Pinkel simply put it. "Very good."

The Jayhawks (3-1) are coming off a 41-6 win against Jacksonville State, which propelled them to No. 4 in the nation in total offense with 499.8 points per game. In the first quarter of that game, quarterback Bill Whittemore rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more, and he became the first Jayhawk to ever score four touchdowns in a quarter. Whittemore has 10 touchdowns so far this season, and he is only one away from tying last year's career mark of 11.

"He has a good arm," Harden said. "He's a lot better than last year when we played them. We have to prepare for their high-powered offense. He's not afraid to take chances down the field.

So none of this spells anything good for the Missouri defense, which gave up 438 yards to Middle Tennessee State last week and almost allowed the Blue Raiders to leave Faurot with an upset. The 40 points the defense allowed dropped the Tigers from fourth to 19th nationally in points allowed. The Tiger defense went into the game with a lot of hype, and Dedrick Harrington said he could see all the makings of a bad day coming.

"We had a decent practice Tuesday, but Wednesday we came out, and I don't the intensity was there," he said. "It showed on the field. We pretty much got a big scare."

Pinkel, though, took the blame.

"My disappointment on defense is not that we struggled," he said. "Those guys have been a little bit in la-la land the past few weeks. They've been beat up on for three years, and now all of a sudden everybody's singing about how good the defense is, but I kept saying, you know, ‘We're OK, but we've got to get better,' and so forth."

The Missouri offense, on the other hand, can't help but feel good after it bailed out the defense Saturday. Quarterback Brad Smith led the Tigers back in the fourth quarter and scored the tying touchdown and two-point conversion, and then he scored the winning touchdown. The Tigers racked up 488 total yards, including 100-plus-yard days from Zack Abron and Smith.

So the 112th meeting between Kansas and Missouri certainly has its storylines besides the obvious rivalry. But as much as the Tigers want to be 5-0 against any team, beating Kansas would make it quite the treat.

"I've learned to hate the Jayhawks," Harden said. "People that don't even know the tradition still hate the Jayhawks. I like that kind of rivalry of rivalry.

"This is the game where everyone has to focus and watch more film and prepare extra hard for, because we want this victory."

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