MU vs. KU: Five keys to the game

Thursday, November 22, 2007 | 8:20 p.m. CST; updated 12:16 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Here are the areas the Tigers must excel in to keep their title hopes alive.

5. Don’t punt the game away

After the K-State game, MU coach Gary Pinkel told reporters that the punting unit will eventually cost his team the game if it doesn’t improve. The trouble started against CU, when punter Adam Crossett had a punt blocked. The next week, long snapper Steven Blair hiked the ball over Crossett’s head for a safety. Last week against K-State, Crossett had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the news doesn’t get much better when they do get the punt off. They rank dead last in punting in the Big 12, averaging 29.1 net yards per punt.

4. Win the turnover battle

The Jayhawks thrive off creating turnovers. They lead the country with a +21 turnover margin, meaning they have forced 21 more turnovers than they have given up. The Tigers aren’t so bad themselves. They are +10 in the turnover department, and safety William Moore is fourth in the country with six interceptions. The key will be for the Tigers to not make early mistakes that put them in a quick hole.

3. Clog the middle

After the first four games of the season the Tigers’ rush defense was a concern. The Tigers gave up more than 100 yards rushing in each of those games. The rush defense has improved dramatically in Big 12 play, however, surrendering just 100.3 yards on the ground, good for third best in the conference. Brandon McAnderson, a 5-foot-10, 235-pound running back, leads KU. The Tigers faced a similarly built back against A&M in Jorvorskie Lane and held him to 50 yards rushing. MU will have to do the same to McAnderson if it doesn’t want to wear out late in the game.

2. Run “possessed”

The Tigers’ exceptional air attack has been well documented this season. But the Tigers’ running game is also crucial. Chase Daniel said running back Tony Temple ran like he was “possessed” against Texas A&M after he ran for 141 yards and a touchdown. When the rushing game failed to get going in the first half against Kansas State, gaining 40 yards on 13 carries, the Tigers struggled. But in the second half, they rushed for 103 yards on 21 attempts, and went on to cruise. KU has the Big 12’s second-best rush defense, and the Tigers must find a way to open up holes.

1. Jeremy Maclin has to do his thing

Daniel is MU’s most valuable player, but Maclin has the talent to take over a game on any given play. He is the only player in the country to score a touchdown via receiving, rushing, punt return and kick return this season. In a game that features two extremely evenly matched teams, Maclin may very well be the difference.

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