LAWRENCE, Kan. – A dark cloud passed over Memorial Stadium on Saturday as a Brad Smith pass dropped incomplete on fourth-and-13.
Shortly after, the sound of a bell tolled loudly over the stadium public address system.
No. 23 Missouri’s last-ditch effort was over. The “O-ver rat-ed” chants had started. Tigers coach Gary Pinkel had lost to Kansas for the first time.
Smith and the rest of MU’s offensive starters played until the bitter end, but it didn’t do any good, for the Tigers lost 35-14 to the Jayhawks on Saturday.
By the time the north goal post had fallen, the sun was shining brightly, again, as it did all day for the Jayhawks.
Kansas (4-1) shut down Smith and the Tigers, holding MU to a season-low 196 yards, and the Jayhawks ran over MU’s defense in the second half.
MU (4-1) didn’t have a counter for KU quarterback Bill Whittemore, who looked more like Smith than Smith, scrambling for big gains and hurting the Tigers with big pass plays when he needed to. Mostly, though, Whittemore led the Jayhawks on long, sustained drives, tiring the MU defense.
“They just nickel-and-dimed us to death, I guess,” MU defensive end Brian Smith said.
After MU took a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter, Whittemore took over, rushing for 32 yards on the Jayhawks’ go-ahead drive. Whittemore ran for a first down and threw a 15-yard pass to Brandon Rideau to convert two of KU’s three third-down conversions on the drive. He also hit a wide-open Denver Latimore for the two-point conversion to put KU ahead 21-14.
Clark Green, who rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries, capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“It was an excellent drive,” KU coach Mark Mangino said. “I thought our coaches mixed up the pass and the run very well. Bill Whittemore was very composed.”
The drive covered 72 yards and 5:55, and it was the beginning of the end for MU. After that, MU’s defenders looked tired and Whittemore led the Jayhawks to two quick strikes to put the game out of reach.
“After that drive, they had the momentum, and there was no turning back,” Brian Smith said.
The Tigers’ offense couldn’t start anything, and, as a result the MU defense wore down. On its next two drives, MU held the ball for a combined nine plays and 4:29.
“KU played a great game: offense, defense and kicking,” MU tackle Rob Droege said. “They played their hearts out, and we just didn’t get the job done.”
MU struggled in nearly every aspect except running the ball, but the Tigers went away from giving tailback Zack Abron the ball when they needed him most.
Abron gained 44 yards in the first quarter and 56 in the third, but he took three carries in the second and fourth quarters combined.
Abron led the way as MU took a 14-13 lead on the first series of the second half, rushing for 52 yards, but he got only the three more carries. The Tigers gained 36 yards for the rest of the game.
“We struggled all day long; we couldn’t maintain a drive,” Pinkel said. “In the second half, we came out and had the lead, but we didn’t have any more drives. We were done. The drives were null and void.”
Not even Brad Smith, who has led the Tigers to two fourth-quarter comebacks this season, could save the day. KU held him to 114 yards of offense, by far the lowest of his career.
Abron was the only answer. After gaining 40 of 69 yards on MU’s first scoring drive, Abron had one carry for 2 yards in the second quarter. MU’s went three-and-out twice to start the quarter, needing to punt into a strong north wind. After the second drive stalled and Brock Harvey kicked a 32-yard punt, KU took advantage of good field position at its 48.
The Jayhawks converted a fourth-and-5 at the MU 31 when Whittemore hit Moderick Johnson on a slant pattern for 9 yards. Five plays later, Green ran it in from the 4, one of his two touchdowns, and KU took a 13-7 lead into halftime.
The Jayhawks could have led by more at the half, but Johnson dropped a sure touchdown. Johnson had beaten cornerback Michael Harden by about 20 yards, and Whittemore hit Johnson in stride, but the ball slipped through his fingers at the goal line.