Stop them if you can

Friday, September 26, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's been awhile since the longest-running rivalry west of the Mississippi brought together teams that are 7-1 between them.

It's been still longer since Kansas (3-1) and Missouri (4-0) brought the two best quarterbacks in the conference into an annual clash that started in 1891.

Kansas State fans may raise an objection and point to their man, Ell Roberson. But Missouri sophomore Brad Smith and Kansas senior Bill Whittemore are certainly the two finest quarterbacks in the Big 12 North, if not the conference.

Both can pass and run with extraordinary alacrity. Each is an inspirational leader with a knack for taking punishment and making clutch plays.

It ought to be quite a show when No. 23 Missouri takes on the greatly improved Jayhawks at 11:40 a.m. Saturday in a packed Memorial Stadium.

Just ask Middle Tennessee State, which watched Smith amass 131 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter alone in Missouri's come-from-behind 41-40 overtime victory last week.

"He's an athlete. I can't lie," said defensive lineman Demetrios Walker. "We tried our best to keep him contained. We knew they were going to give the ball to him."

On the touchdown drive that tied the game and put it in overtime, Smith accounted for 74 of Missouri's 73 yards because running back Zack Abron lost 1 yard on a rush.

"When you've got a quarterback that can do what that guy can do, it's amazing," Middle Tennessee State coach Andy McCollum said. "When they need him, he's the man."

When it was over and Missouri's unbeaten record had survived, Smith had rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown and passed for 192 yards and three scores.

He will be a handful for a Kansas defense that has struggled against the run and has injury problems on the defensive line.

But Missouri would be smart to key on Whittemore's knack for making big plays -- such as the 49- and 65-yard touchdown pass plays he connected on last week.

"I think there's a lot of similarities in the quarterbacks," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said.

"I think they're both big-play guys. They both have great leadership qualities. Their quarterback will make plays, and our quarterback will make plays. It will be the rest of the supporting cast on the team that will make the difference."

Whittemore gave Mangino's budding rebuilding project an instant boost when he transferred from a junior college a year ago and threw 11 TD passes in nine games.

This year so far he has passed for 1,098 yards and 10 touchdowns and rushed 37 times for 203 yards and three TDs. Two weeks ago at Wyoming he threw four touchdown passes. Last week against Jacksonville State he threw for two TDs and ran for two while piling up 389 yards of total offense.

"We have a great quarterback," said Mark Simmons, who hooked up with Whittemore on a 65-yard touchdown pass play. "I can't wait to see what he does next."

When someone asked Missouri coach Gary Pinkel how he planned to "shut Whittemore down," sarcasm dripped in his voice.

"Shut him down? You don't coach, do you?" Pinkel said. "Nobody is going to shut this guy down."

Like Whittemore, Smith has the ability to change the momentum with his arm or his feet.

"As an offensive lineman, it's simple," said Missouri senior Brad Droege. "If I can get this block and get Brad past the line of scrimmage, who knows? It's 50-50 that he is going to wind up in the end zone."

Coming out of high school, neither quarterback was highly sought by the major programs.

"I don't think that would be the case now if they were both coming out this year," Mangino said.

The Tigers were 10-point road favorites over the Jayhawks, who were hoping for their first sellout at 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium for a non-Nebraska game since 1975.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: