This week the Jayhawks and Tigers head to Kansas City in the 4th edition of the Border War at Arrowhead. A matchup that has been compelling and hard fought for the last three years appears to have lost a little bit of luster in 2010 as Kansas and new head coach Turner Gill haven't quite gotten things on track. Plain and simple, Mizzou is favored and their favored big.
The Tigers are a top 25 team, on the brink of a 10 win season and with a win and a little help they could find themselves battling for a Big 12 Conference title. So what do we need to know about Mizzou headed into this one? Let's find out with a little know your rival.
The Tiger offensive front. - The Tigers have been fairly successful in running the football during the 2009-2010 season despite the early season loss of team captain Derrick Washington. While no one man has carried the load, Mizzou has amassed over 1700 yards on the season with those carries ranging from Blaine Gabbert to TJ Moe and the more traditional running backs De'Vion Moore, Henry Josey and Kendial Lawrence. In all the Tigers have scored 21 of their teams 37 touchdowns this season on the ground and have shown a big play ability on more than one occasion.
How is a team this successful with a running by committee approach? The big guys up front.
Senior center Tim Barnes acts as the anchor. Dan Hoch, Elvis Fisher, Austin Wuebbels, Jayson Palmgren and Justin Britt round out the crew and as a Kansas fan the first thing you'll notice is I've listed six. The Tigers have quality and they have depth up front. This is a luxury that injury has all but decimated for the Jayhawks this season. In looking to the future this would be just one of many things that Turner Gill need to emulate and develop in order to be successful.
Michael Egnew - Remember Martin Rucker? Remember Chase Coffman? This guy might be as much if not more of a matchup nightmare for Kansas. Egnew is a Mackey finalist and another in a recent stretch of top notch tight end types at Mizzou. The Tigers don't use any of these players in a traditional sense, they're more receiver than tight end in all reality. However the blend of size and athleticism makes them deadly.
TJ Moe - Moe is a playmaker at receiver with the quicks and athletic ability that can give the Kansas defensive backfield fits. The Jayhawks have some athletes of their own in Greg Brown and Isiah Barfield, but the problem is when you give a quarterback all the time he needs, a player like Moe will find an opening. After that, he can hurt you with his feet. What's worse? He's only a sophomore.
Tiger defensive line - Mizzou has the horses up front to create some serious problems for the Kansas offensive line and passing game. After years where the Tigers could outscore you and sometimes struggle defensively, Gary Pinkel seems to have put together a total package. There have been times where they've looked vulnerable, but at the same time the defense and the pressure applied up front has won games for Mizzou this year.
Aldon Smith is the known name and the most explosive, but for a team that has experienced it's fair share of injury this year, the Tigers have again found the formula for success. The answer is simple, quality depth. Mizzou isn't an overnight success. Gary Pinkel has been in place for a decade. He's built his program. His staff has remained loyal and largely in place. It's a program to learn from and as a Jayhawk fan I don't mind saying that.
The Tigers were riding high on a wave of positive momentum through much of the early season. A win against the Oklahoma Sooners seemed to signal their arrival, but a slow start in Lincoln and a let down in Lubbock said hold on just a second.
Following the two straight losses, the Tigers recovered with a solid senior day win against the Kansas State Wildcats. Once again the Tiger offense showed up to play and even the defense got in on the act and put some points on the board. The game wasn't quite as close as the 38-28 score indicated and Mizzou seemed back on track.
This past weekend in Ames the Tigers were actually out gained by the Cyclones who were without starting quarterback Austen Arnaud, but managed to win behind a shutout posted by a strong defensive effort which has really become the story of the season. The Missouri Tigers have a defense to go with their offensive attack.
At this point it's hard to say which Tiger team is going to show up, will it be an explosive offense or a team that hangs relies more on it's defense? Either way they look like a group that has the balance to beat you in a variety of ways. If Blaine Gabbert and the Tiger offense isn't quite hitting on all cylinders, the defense has stepped up. At the same time in those less than stellar offensive games the Tigers have still taken care of the football and avoided many costly errors.
In short, they may not be the team that looked to be peaking against the Oklahoma Sooners, but they do look like a very good team that presents a few sleepless in coming up with a gameplan for both sides of the ball.
A Glance at #'s
Over at Rock M Nation they consistently look a little deeper statistically at efficiencies, success rates etc. I won't pretend to understand it all, but it's my goal to further incorporate these areas into the analysis here at RCT next year. With that in mind I'm going to tell you everything you need to know headed into this one.
F/+ rankings represents a combination of success rate and an explosiveness rating known as PPP on a per play basis as well as a per drive efficiency rating. In short, how good are you, how efficient are you and how explosive are you.
- Mizzou's F/+ Offensive rank: 19 Defensive rank: 19
- Kansas F/+ Offensive rank: 114 Defensive rank: 101
Again, apologies for the vagueness of the above, but what else do you need to know really? A year from now the hope will be that these stats might provide us a little more meat in understanding our upcoming opponents in these weekly previews, but for today all you need to know is that Mizzou is a good football team, and they're balanced. Meanwhile, Kansas hasn't been a very good football team.
The good news is that sometimes in a rivalry game you get to throw records and common wisdom out the window. That isn't always the case, but sometimes a team shows up in a way you weren't quite expecting and plays a little out of their head. Here's hoping we get that from our Jayhawks and they make a good game of it.
Let's Get Real about Kansas Football(Soapbox Time)
Whether you'd like to admit it or not, the Tigers are a great example of building a program. Much has been made Turner Gill's struggles and early returns have not been good, but sometimes staying the course is the answer.
Mizzou had more tradition in their football program and a longer standing history of success. While neither Kansas or Missouri had ever been a power so to speak, Gary Pinkel took over a program with stronger support and a better base.
What's followed is a decade of improvement that has seen struggles and more recently some very encouraging success. Certainly there are circumstances outside of their control that have contributed to that, but today what they have is a program well positioned for success in the near term and very likely the long term.
As Kansas fans it might be a bit tough to say, but we might need to take a step back and realize that the Orange Bowl spiked the expectations a bit out of whack. What we'd all like to see is a team that wins consistently in the 7-9 win range with that occasional breakout possibility. Think Oklahoma State this year, Mizzou 2007.
Kansas isn't Texas, Kansas isn't Oklahoma, but with some consistency, continued support from fans and the right man in charge Kansas could look to build toward being in that position. Hardly anything worthwhile comes overnight, at least not in football.
We'll continue to encourage and look critically at the Jayhawks here at RC as it's not my goal to feverishly down kool aid to no end. At the same time, I'm not here to criticize without reason, the old "blood in the water" mentality that sometimes comes is something I hope to avoid just as much. Fact is, I'm a Kansas fan regardless and I've said it before, that isn't going to change. I'll support the players, the coaches and the team any chance I get.
The Orange Bowl was a bit of lightning in a bottle and it was great. But this season shows that once we get the right man for the job and things are moving in the right direction, patience is key. Turner Gill could be that man. And then there is the possibility that maybe he isn't, at this point though I can assure you that Missouri fans had their "fire Pinkel" moments early on and fortunately for them they didn't make that mistake.