LAWRENCE — Three meetings into this Arrowhead Stadium experiment, if there's one thing to know about the annual Border War between Kansas and Missouri, it's that you had better bring a big appetite for offense.
The teams have combined to score 221 points, with only a touchdown separating them in the Tigers' favor. They've put up 2,926 yards of offense, an average of nearly 1,000 yards per game. Of course, there's been some bad defense played at different junctures. But the credit has mostly gone to high-octane, never-stop-gunning offenses.
This bitter rivalry, as it enters a new decade, has been about record-setting quarterbacks just doing their thing. In 2007, MU's Chase Daniel shredded KU for 361 yards and three touchdowns. In '08, KU's Todd Reesing avenged the '07 loss by hitting Kerry Meier for a 26-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds left to finish off an epic performance. In '09, MU's Blaine Gabbert stepped on the stage for the first time and owned it, racking up 397 total yards on the way to another heart-stopping, foot-stomping victory.
Now there's this year. And the feeling around town is that this fourth serving of MU-KU at Arrowhead won't be the same. Why? Because the Jayhawks (3-8) don't appear up to delivering on their end of the bargain.
Kansas is ranked 104th in total offense, and KU coach Turner Gill and offensive coordinator Chuck Long still have not identified their quarterback of the future.
"The way I'd dream it up at this point in time," Gill said, "you'd have a guy that would now be starting his 12th game. But that's the way it goes in a year. We're still evaluating, still trying to see who is that guy to lead us on, and we'll still evaluate it after this ballgame. We've had some guys who have done some good things; they've just been inconsistent."
KU's week one starter, sophomore Kale Pick, is now trying his hand at wide receiver. This week, the quarterback job has rounded back to redshirt freshman Jordan Webb, who beat Georgia Tech and New Mexico State but struggled out of the gate in Big 12 play before falling to a shoulder injury Oct. 23 against Texas A&M. Junior transfer Quinn Mecham filled in with four starts, playing one amazing quarter in KU's comeback victory over Colorado before bowing out in favor of Webb.
Long is trying to look at this situation in a positive way. Key word: trying.
"The silver lining in all of this is we have two guys with experience going into the offseason," Long said. "That will pay off somewhere down the line. We do have two guys with experience where we didn't have any. You accomplished something there in this difficult season. Is the quarterback position settled yet? No, it's not. That's the flip side."
On the other side of the border, Gabbert will be making his second start, and it very well could be another feast against KU's defense. Gabbert hasn't put up the numbers he did last season, but he hasn't had to with an improved Missouri defense helping the cause. He has 15 touchdowns and five interceptions, bringing stability that Gill can only dream of at this point.
Webb, who has a stronger arm than Mecham, would appear to be KU's best option against Missouri and in the future. In the eight games he's played (only five were complete efforts), he's completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,150 yards and seven touchdowns with six interceptions.
Gill and Long want to see Webb play within their offensive framework more often, choosing his second and third options instead of automatically pulling it down to run. In Webb's short stint last week against Oklahoma State, Long was encouraged when Webb checked down to a running back.
"That little thing right there," Long said, "that sends a good message to us."
Long understands that it will take much more than that from Webb for the Jayhawks to have a chance against Missouri and turn this game into another epic battle.
"We haven't put a full game together yet," Long said. "That's something we're trying to get through. I obviously hope it happens this week. We need to have a good offensive output."