November 20, 2007
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- How sadly ironic it will be if turnovers or penalties decide the Missouri-Kansas showdown on Saturday night.
All year long, these two have managed to play remarkably error-free football. Avoiding foolish mistakes and costly turnovers is a major reason the old rivals are 21-1 between them heading into the biggest, grandest game in the colorful history of a 116-year-old rivalry.
"We have an expression we use all the time," Kansas defensive tackle John Larson said. "You play from the eyebrows up. You don't beat yourself."
As in almost everything else, the No. 2 Jayhawks (11-0, 7-0 Big 12) and No. 3 Tigers (10-1, 6-1) are close to dead-even in avoiding penalty.
Kansas, while compiling the first 11-win season in school history, is tied with Army for the fewest penalties per game in the nation, with 4.18. Missouri ranks second in the nation in fewest penalty yards per game with just 32.82. The Jayhawks are sixth at 37.45.
Kansas' turnover margin of plus-21 is the best in the country, built to a large extent on quarterback Todd Reesing's accuracy. Reesing holds an ongoing team record by throwing 205 straight passes without an interception. Altogether, the 5-foot-10 sophomore has thrown 360 passes and been picked off only four times, which ties Kansas with Navy for No. 1 in the nation.
Kansas' 11 giveaways are second in the nation to Ball State's 10, and the Jayhawks' 32 takeaways are third.
Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel has put up 446 passes and been intercepted only nine times, leading to a turnover margin of plus-10 which ranks the Tigers 13th nationally
Smart, well-disciplined football is what got these two in the national championship picture.
"I don't think I came up with the expression `play from your eyebrows up,"' Kansas defensive coordinator Bill Young said. "But I use it a lot. You need to be intelligent and you need to do what's right."
The Jayhawks are still mad at themselves for giving up nine penalties for 98 yards during a 45-7 blowout of Iowa State last week. During the Cyclones' only touchdown drive, Kansas was flagged for multiple infractions.
"We had a sack for about a 15-yard loss and gave that up and 15 yards to boot on a facemask penalty, and then got another penalty for hitting out of bounds," Young said. "They ended up getting it in the end zone and it was based on our not playing within the framework of ourselves and doing things we shouldn't do and normally don't do. We harp all the time on not making stupid mistakes."
Young has even categorized penalties under two broad headings.
"We have combat penalties and dumb penalties," he said. "Against Iowa State, we had a couple of dumb penalties. Not beating ourselves is a part of our football team."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel figures the difference between the least-penalized and most-penalized team in the country is "generally about three football fields of yards."
"That's one of our points of emphasis in our plan to win. It's nice to see us play disciplined," Pinkel said.
It's probably safe to say the losing team in Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night will not have beaten itself.
"They're a very disciplined team, in the top of the country in penalties. They don't make mistakes, they don't make dumb mistakes," Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak said. "If they make mistakes, we're going to have to capitalize on them."