Monday, November 22, 2010

Bring on the Jayhawks

It was not pretty, but then football games in November in Ames, Iowa, are rarely pretty. But Mizzou's 14-0 win at Iowa State last Saturday was an impressive display of defense from the Tigers, some of the best open-field tackling I've ever seen from the Black and Gold. Mizzou (9-2, 5-2 in Big 12 games) now owns three of the five shutouts in Big 12 play since 2006.

Yes, Iowa State (5-7, 3-5 Big 12) did outgain Missouri in total yards, and matched the Tigers with 17 first downs. But the Tigers staked out an early 7-0 lead and then held Iowa State at bay. Iowa State missed two field goals, and Missouri used a fake punt to pick up a key first down en route to the game-clinching touchdown.

Missouri’s offense overcame the adversity of the cold, windy conditions to do enough. Missouri managed another balanced offensive effort, with 134 yards rushing and 172 yards passing.

It was the kind of win that makes fans feel good about the overall program, as Missouri went on the road, in blustery conditions, against a team with everything to play for and didn’t stumble.

Mizzou now is assured of a winning record in conference play in three of the last four seasons, and a win on Saturday against Kansas would give the Tigers 10-win seasons in three of the last four years. However, the primary goal of winning Missouri’s first conference title since 1969 remains.

With that goal in mind, Mizzou still has a narrow window of opportunity to win the Big 12 North Division. If Nebraska loses its last game against resurgent Colorado and Mizzou beats Kansas, the Tigers will represent the North in the Big 12 Championship game.

While Colorado faces an uphill battle in Lincoln, Missouri should roll the struggling Jayhawks (3-8, 1-6 Big 12) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City (11:30 a.m. on FSN).

This will be the 119th meeting in this epically bitter rivalry, the second most-played in college football. Both sides claim a 55-54-9 edge in the series. (In 1960, Kansas beat No. 1 Missouri but later was forced to forfeit the game for using an ineligible player, halting the momentum of MU-KU columns for decades thereafter. Both sides count this game as a win.)

Missouri fans will relish the chance to embarrass a weaker Kansas team, as they always have. In the 1960s, Mizzou was crushing Kansas when Jayhawk coach Pepper Rogers flashed the peace sign across the field to Tiger coach Dan Devine, who supposedly “returned half of it.”

Missouri fans will no doubt be wary though, given sparks of competitive play from Kansas in recent games and the Jayhawks' historic ability to rise up and give Missouri fits, regardless of their talent level. But in so many ways, even with the success of recent years, beating Kansas still determines much of how the season is viewed. A loss to this Kansas team would be among the most bitter in Missouri history. More likely, expect a week of jokes about the difference between Kansas and Missouri followed by a big Tiger win.

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