The annual Border Showdown between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Missouri Tigers grabs top-billing at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City this weekend as the teams compete against each other for the last time as Big 12 Conference foes.
The nation’s second-most played rivalry, behind only that of Minnesota- Wisconsin which numbers 121 games, the Tigers and Jayhawks are getting together for the 120th time overall, but this is the last matchup for both sharing the same conference affiliation with Missouri moving on to join the SEC.
This year the Tigers have given themselves a chance to take part in the postseason thanks to a 6-5 overall record heading into the weekend. Last week the team pulled off a huge comeback win over Texas Tech with a 31-27 triumph at home in order to become bowl eligible, although it brought Missouri to just .500 in conference at 4-4.
Since beating McNeese State (42-24) and Northern Illinois (45-42) in back-to- back games to kick off the 2011 season, the Jayhawks have hit the skids with nine straight losses and most of those defeats have not been pretty. Last week Kansas was beaten up by Texas A&M on the road in College Station by a score of 61-7, which means the Jayhawks are that much closer to finishing up the campaign without a single Big 12 Conference win.
In terms of the all-time series, the teams are now knotted up at 55-55-9 according to Kansas records, but at least the Jayhawks can be happy about the fact that they have a winning record in Kansas City over the years at 13-9-3. Then again, the majority of those victories came more than a century ago when the series first kicked off in the 1890’s.
James Franklin was huge in Missouri’s final home game of the season last week as he ran for a career-high 152 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground, adding another two on passes as he threw for 172 yards as the Tigers completed the comeback bid in the fourth quarter. Franklin’s performance was much needed, given the fact that the team was having to make up for the loss of Henry Josey who suffered a season-ending knee injury a week earlier. With Josey on the shelf, that means the Tigers are missing out on one of the top rushers in the nation who was averaging 116.8 ypg. Instead, Franklin now becomes the focal point of the offense, having scored a team-high 13 TDs on the ground and thrown for 232.1 ypg and another 18 scores for the program.
The Missouri defense was a bit flat in the first quarter against Texas Tech, allowing a couple of touchdowns which eventually meant the Tigers would have to fight back from a 17-point deficit in order to capture the win, which they did. The Red Raiders, crushed by Oklahoma State a week prior in a 66-6 final, were determined to take out their frustrations against Missouri and nearly pulled it off as they logged more than 450 yards of total offense. The biggest issue for this unit in 2011 has been trying to stop the pass because through 11 games the Tigers have allowed 263.2 ypg through the air which is sixth in the conference and 99th in the nation. Obviously, given the type of high- powered competition in the conference those are the sort of numbers that are almost to be expected anymore.
James Sims scored on a 15-yard run with just 46 seconds to play in the fourth quarter last week against Texas A&M, unfortunately it meant virtually nothing as the Jayhawks still suffered the ugly 61-7 loss on the road and in turn remained winless against the rest of the league. Sims finished with a team- high 19 rushing yards which tells you just how poor the offense was for the visitors. Quarterback Jordan Webb finished 19-of-27 for 133 yards through the air as the team generated just 197 yards of total offense. Over the last four games in particular, the offensive production for the Jayhawks has been sorely lacking, the team combining in those outings to post just 47 points, compared to 148 points for the competition. Webb has converted an impressive 65.1 percent of his pass attempts, but has almost as many INTs (10) as he does TDs (13) at this stage.
While the Jayhawks were averaging barely two yards per offensive snap, the defense for Kansas was being run all over the field by the Aggies who averaged close to eight yards per snap. Strangely enough, even though Kansas gave up a boat-load of points, the defense was on the field for less than 22 minutes. Unfortunately, what that meant was A&M was hitting the Jayhawks with everything it had and was using as few plays as possible to get the ball into the end zone over and over again. With the unit being so porous it has to be painful for someone like Steven Johnson who leads the team in tackles with 114 and has made six stops behind the line of scrimmage. Toben Opurum is responsible for 9.5 TFLs and three sacks, but still Kansas ranks 10th in the conference and 117th nationally with just 0.82 sacks per game entering the final weekend of the regular season.
With Missouri losing a key piece of the offense recently, the Jayhawks might actually have a fighting chance in this meeting. Rivalry games often take on a life of their own and certainly stranger things have happened in the Big 12 in recent weeks.