In retrospect, the 2003 season looks like something of a beginning for the brief five-year resurgence of Kansas football. Sure, that team took its fair share of hard knocks (big losses to K-State, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska are the most notable), but it also came out of a brutal Big 12 with a 6-6 overall record, and yes I’m aware of the win over Jacksonville State. That win allowed KU to use an exemption to become bowl eligible and take on North Carolina State and quarterback Philip Rivers in the Tangerine Bowl.
But before that could happen KU had work to do, and their most notable win came over the (then) rival Tigers of Missouri, who entered the contest as 10-point favorites and ranked #23 in the country. It was a battle of quarterbacks that were exceptional in college but never got proper chances at the next level in KU’s Bill Whittemore against MU’s Brad Smith.
Kansas had some extra motivation for this one due to the way Missouri players had acted the year before in Columbia, with coaches taping photographs of Missouri’s on-field celebration to the KU lockers.
The game was tight for three quarters. Kansas got the ball first, but bogged down near midfield. The defense forced a quick three-and-out, and Charles Gordon ran the punt back 61 yards to the Missouri 14-yard line. This set up Bill Whittemore, who opened the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run.
However, Brad Smith quickly followed that up with a four-yard run of his own to take the 7-6 lead (KU had missed their extra point). The Jayhawks and Tigers then traded rushing TDs (KU’s was scored by Clark Green) and the score was 14-13 Missouri going into the fourth quarter.
This was where Whittemore and the Jayhawks took over. A combination of Whittemore runs, Green runs, and a John Randle reception led to a Green TD and a two-point conversion pass by Whittemore to Denver Latimore. 21-14 KU.
Whittemore then led another four minute drive that led to a Whittemore score from four yards out. 28-14 KU.
The KU offense put the nail in the Tigers’ coffin (after an impressive 37-second three-and-out by the KU defense) when John Randle rushed his way to a four-yard score.
After time expired, the players watched the fans rush the field and the goalposts came down, headed for nearby Potter Lake.
Whittemore got the best of Smith on this day. KU held the vaunted Missouri offense to 196 total yards while KU’s offense racked up 318 with Whittemore accounting for 187 total yards. It was a wake up call to the rest of the Big 12 that Kansas football might just be something in the near future.
Kansas 35, now unranked UM-C 14.