KANSAS CITY — No one had an answer.
For much of the season, an assortment of adjectives had been considered appropriate to describe Missouri’s offensive threat: High-flying, effective, dazzling, lethal. In October, soft line protection had been exposed as the kink in the Tigers’ offensive flow during losses to Big 12 South powers Texas and Oklahoma State. But over the past month, Missouri had skirted through its Big 12 North-heavy schedule with relative ease. It appeared senior quarterback Chase Daniel and company had regained their preseason promise, which tickled the imagination of those who placed the Tigers among the nation’s elite. Life for the believers, it appeared, had returned to normal just in time to face the Big 12 South champion next Saturday.
But no one had an answer for the offense’s struggle early in the first half Saturday. No one could describe what happened before halftime during Kansas’ 40-37 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. It wasn’t until the third quarter that the Tigers’ unit established a rhythm. But, by then, Missouri found itself in a fight it would not win.
“I don’t know, honestly,” sophomore running back Derrick Washington said. “We shouldn’t have been struggling against Kansas.”
Missouri’s struggle began early. On the Tigers’ third snap of the afternoon, junior safety Darrell Stuckey intercepted Daniel at the Tigers’ 39-yard line. He returned it 19 yards and placed Kansas sophomore kicker Jacob Branstetter in position to convert a 34-yard field goal to open scoring.
The sequence represented the start of Daniel’s sluggish first quarter. He failed to complete his first six passes. Late in the quarter, he fumbled the ball after a 48-yard run. He was unable to guide the Tigers to a score during the quarter for only the second time this season (the loss to Texas on Oct. 18 was the first).
He became frustrated. He barked at wide receivers who slipped on the muddied turf. He shook his head as he jogged off the field. Kansas fans dressed in blue roared, and Daniel tried to gain a grip on the situation.
By halftime, Kansas led 19-10. Daniel had thrown for 62 yards on 6-of-15 passing. He led Missouri’s rushing threat with 69 yards on five carries; Washington was second with 25 yards on six.
“We just weren’t executing at a high level,” Daniel said. “We weren’t making throws. It’s everyone. You just can’t point one person out and say it’s their fault.”
Recently, Missouri had breezed past Big 12 North opposition. The Tigers’ last loss in division play occurred on Nov. 25, 2006, against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. This season, Missouri had outscored Big 12 North opponents by an average score of 51-15. Entering Saturday, Missouri had beaten Kansas two consecutive years.
“They came out with a greater intensity level,” senior tight end Chase Coffman said, “and played their asses off.”
Missouri’s defensive players said the offensive strain failed to affect them. They held Kansas to 216 yards of total offense in the first half, despite being on the field for 44 plays compared to Kansas’ defense for 27. Missouri’s offense totaled 152 yards in the first half.
“It’s no extra pressure,” junior nose tackle Jaron Baston said. “That’s our job. When the offense isn’t doing as well, it’s our job to step up. When we’re not doing as well, it’s their job to step up. We just came up short.”
Junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said: “I don’t know what happened. It definitely wasn’t a game where we came out and started out fast.
“Our defense was on the field a lot more than it should have been. You can try to say the offense didn’t have a great day, but when it all comes down to it, it’s the defense’s job to get off the field on third down.”
Missouri performed with more efficiency in the second half. But Kansas had been given life.
“There’s no 24-hour rule about this,” Daniel said. “It’s getting over it as soon as you can.”