After barely surviving Illinois to start the season, after working through the rest of non-conference play with offensive bursts and just enough defense, after destroying Nebraska, Texas Tech, and Colorado, after succumbing briefly to Sooner Magic, after losing Pig Brown to an Achilles injury, and after Maclin’ing Kansas State, it was time: Missouri and Kansas were a combined 21-1 and were ranked third and second in the country, respectively.
This stunning regular season would come to a conclusion with the biggest game in the history of a bitter rivalry. This one was for all-time bragging rights. This was a game you absolutely had to win.
As luck would have it, the game was not in Lawrence as originally scheduled. The teams had agreed to a four-game set at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Small favors and whatnot.
As even more luck would have it, the winner of this game would not be No. 2 in the country. Arkansas had upset LSU, 50-48, in Baton Rouge the day before.
This summer, as part of the awesome SB Nation package on the 10th anniversary of the 2007 season, I interviewed both Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing for an MU-KU piece.
Kansas-Missouri is a neighbor-vs.-neighbor rivalry that remains fiercely passive-aggressive, even though the two stopped playing when Missouri left for the SEC in 2012. You never want to lose to your neighbor, but this was the game you absolutely could not lose.
Rivalry sharpens the senses. Fear, dread, and exhilaration made 2007 incomparable in what a Kansas City Star writer had once called football’s Bermuda Triangle (the trio of Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri).
The thought of winning this game was amazing. The thought of losing it was terrifying.
The Daniel quotes came through the PR office of the New Orleans Saints, but I got a nice, 45-minute conversation with Reesing, and I figured this piece was a good way to either repurpose or expand on some of the quotes. I included some below.
I cannot ever remember experiencing such a profound mix of exhilaration and total dread as I did in the run-up to this game. Fans of whichever school lost this game would never be allowed to live it down, and everyone knew it. Plus, there was the whole “winner is a game from the BCS Championship” thing. What a day.
I think after the Nebraska game, we started to [realize] it's gonna come down to us vs. Missouri. All down to one game. That made it exciting, to know how big the game was going to be, but at the same time in the back of your head it's like, ‘The one year we put this great team together, another team in our own division is doing the same thing? We could go 11-1 and not even make our own conference championship!’
It was kind of a bittersweet way for things to be set up at the end, to have a game for all the marbles. But you kinda knew in the back of your head, if you end up on the wrong side in this game, that's gonna be a shitty way to end the season, to not even get a chance to play for the conference title.
Perhaps predictably, both teams began the game cautiously. They had both experienced slow starts at times in 2007, and the magnitude of the situation probably enhanced the conservatism.
Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin returned the opening kickoff to near the Mizzou 40, but two short passes to Maclin netted just two yards, and the Tigers went three-and-out. So did Kansas. And Missouri again. And Kansas again. A 43-yard Maclin punt return set the Tigers up at the KU 43, however, and then Chase Daniel found Tommy Saunders for 12 yards and the game’s first first down.
Mizzou was in business, but a personal foul penalty on Will Franklin pushed the Tigers from the KU 15 to the 30. And on fourth-and-12, the Tigers attempted a foolish fake field goal. A quick pass from Saunders to Franklin gained just seven yards, and KU had dodged an early bullet.
KU finally moved the chains once itself but quickly stalled out, and Missouri got the ball back at its 22 after another punt.
Throughout most of the season, we were pretty slow in the first quarter. We tended to come out more conservative, trying to get a feel for what the defense was doing before we really got comfortable from a play-calling standpoint.
And certainly a game like that, there's probably a little extra nerves on behalf of the offense and maybe the play-callers, getting used to the elements — it was an extremely cold game, maybe ideal circumstances for some people, a true November, Midwest type of football. I think they came out a little differently than we anticipated, which we were used to, but all of those things working together accounted for the slow start.
Finally, some points. Barely. Tony Temple gained 35 yards in two rushes, and Daniel connected with Danario Alexander for 20 yards, Franklin for seven, and Saunders for 13 to set up a first-and-goal from the 4. And on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Mizzou went with one of its go-to plays, a little slip screen to Martin Rucker. The senior from St. Joseph plunged into the end zone. 7-0 Mizzou, 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Reesing connected with Kerry Meier for a big 39-yard pass to the Mizzou 26. KU hurried to the line and attempted to even the game with a pass to Dezmon Briscoe in the end zone, but Reesing couldn’t get quite enough juice on it, and William Moore, so good since Brown’s injury, stepped in front of it at the 2.
You finally get a big play, you get the crowd excited, everybody's blood is flowing a little hotter, and you try to take a shot and catch the defense on its heels. That's a pretty standard approach that a lot of play-callers take. Dezmon actually had William Moore beat by a couple of steps in the end zone. He was running out of room, but the pass came up a little bit short.
I remember I kinda threw it off my back foot because I was getting ready to get knocked pretty hard by someone. I didn't quite get to step into my throw a bit, and it came up short, and I know William still had to make a good play on the ball. He was a heck of a player.
So that was certainly one of the plays that was a huge turning point in the game. That one really hurt. If we have an extra couple seconds in the pocket, maybe that's a touchdown.
Blown chances: Mizzou 1, Kansas 1.
Finally untracked a bit, Mizzou’s offense began to look like Mizzou’s offense. Temple rushed for 17 yards to get the Tigers out from the shadow of their end zone, then Jimmy Jackson ripped off an 18-yarder.
Passes to Alexander and Chase Coffman and a holding penalty on KU’s James Holt got the Tigers to the KU 30, and a 20-yarder to Alexander, having the game of his life, set up a first-and-goal. And on third-and-goal, Daniel pulled off a magic act, buying seemingly minutes of time behind the line of scrimmage before Alexander finally came open. Throw, catch, touchdown. 14-0
After a tense, tight first quarter, things were rolling now. Kansas drove 47 yards to the Mizzou 16, but Scott Webb missed a 33-yard field goal. Mizzou responded by driving to the KU 36, but another short fourth-down pass to Rucker got eaten up. KU drove to the Mizzou 27, but Webb missed a 45-yarder.
Blown chances: Kansas 3, Mizzou 2. The half ended with the Tigers up two touchdowns.
It's probably one of our worst first halves in terms of missed opportunities, but we're still moving the ball, and to be down only 14, we're thinking this could be a lot worse. And we knew we'd be able to keep moving the ball based on our success moving the ball in the second quarter. So I think for us it was, everybody just relax, 14 points is nothing, we know how fast we can score once we get rolling.
The way Kansas was moving the ball in the second quarter, it was obvious the Jayhawks wouldn’t remain scoreless for long. But Mizzou bought some time early in the second half. A pass from Reesing to Derek Fine, plus a face mask penalty on Castine Bridges, set KU up at the Mizzou 17, but Reesing threw behind Marcus Henry on third-and-9; the ball was tipped into the air and picked off by Bridges, who returned it all the way to the KU 40. It was 4-2 now in terms of blown chances, and it would soon become 21-0 on the scoreboard after Jimmy Jackson scored on a one-yard burst.
Now the track meet was officially on. Kansas drove 67 yards and finally put points on the board via a one-yard Brandon McAnderson touchdown. Mizzou responded with a steady, patient 14-play drive, dinking, dunking, and converting third downs. Daniel pitched to Derrick Washington for a three-yard score, and it was 28-7 with 1:19 left in the third quarter. KU already had the ball at the MU 35 when the quarter ended.
There's certainly a sense of urgency [heading into the 4th quarter], knowing that even if we're scoring, there's a chance they're going to keep scoring too. I think that on offense, and certainly from the coaching staff, it was, ‘Let's get going pretty quickly.’ At the same time, you don't want to rush yourselves too much and lose focus and fail to execute properly.
The final period was all about the clock. Kansas was on fire, and the Mizzou defense was simply trying to bend as much as possible before giving up points. The Jayhawks scored on a five-yard Reesing run. 28-14, 13:02 left.
With the game getting tense, Daniel began to lean on Maclin. The two connected for 18 yards on second-and-15, then 10 yards on second-and-9. And after a holding penalty set up a first-and-20, Daniel went to Saunders for 10 yards and Rucker for 16. The Tigers stalled out at the KU 25, but steady Jeff Wolfert nailed a 43-yard field goal to keep it a three-possession game, 31-14.
83 seconds later, it was 31-21.
Again, the Mizzou offense had to respond and did so by the skin of its teeth. Daniel found Maclin for 18 yards on second-and-8, then connected with Alexander for 16 yards and a huge third-and-14 conversion. It was Maclin again for 14 yards on second-and-12, but the run game was doing nothing. Again Mizzou stalled out, and again Wolfert hit a 43-yarder. 34-21, 3:31 left.
83 seconds later, it was 34-28. Gulp.
A Reesing-to-Henry touchdown had cut the lead to six points with 2:03 left, but Mizzou recovered the ensuing onside kick. Kansas had used a timeout early in the fourth quarter, then used another one at the end of Mizzou’s second field goal drive. This meant that Mizzou could milk most, but not all, of the clock before punting. Three rushes gained just five yards, and a 33-yard Adam Crossett punt set KU up at its 11 with just 17 seconds left.
We thought that if we had one more quarter or 10 more minutes, then maybe we could catch them. But just given that we really hurt ourselves in the first half, not capitalizing on opportunities, it could have been 14-10 or 14-13 at half, and obviously that came back to bite us in the ass.
We really got clicking on offense and our defense got some stops, but we ran out of time. That's the nature of the game. As quickly as we were able to score in the third and fourth quarter, we came up against the clock unfortunately.
He’s not wrong. Granted, with another quarter or 10 more minutes, Missouri probably doesn’t go into clock-killer mode and maybe scores another couple of touchdowns itself. But once the Jayhawks’ offense got rolling, Mizzou could do nothing to stop it. Until the team picture in the end zone, anyway.
Missouri, to their credit, they made enough plays on offense to keep things out of reach. Even if they had a slowdown of sorts, they still had enough cushion that ... 21 points ... that's a tough deficit to overcome. Not everyone's got Tom Brady on their side, right? [laughs]
- Total yards: Mizzou 519, Kansas 391
- Total snaps: Mizzou 93, Kansas 71. The Tigers’ dinking and dunking paid off in the form of ball control.
- Time of possession: Mizzou 37:25, Kansas 22:35
- Daniel: 40-for-49, 361 yards, three touchdowns, two sacks, no interceptions. Reesing: 28-for-49, 349 yards, two touchdowns, two sacks, two interceptions.
- Alexander: eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown
- Maclin: 10 catches for 69 yards, four rushes for 22 yards, a 43-yard punt return, and a 36-yard kick return.
- Temple, Jackson, and Washington: 28 carries, 121 yards, two catches for nine yards
- Rucker and Coffman: 7 catches for 54 yards and a touchdown
- Saunders: 8 catches for 82 yards
- Stryker Sulak: 5.0 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 breakup
- Lorenzo Williams: 2.0 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack
No matter what else had happened or would happen in Gary Pinkel’s career, he had just won the one game he absolutely, positively had to win. And Mizzou was No. 1 in the country because of it.