At his regular Tuesday news conferences, Kansas University football coach Turner Gill typically opens with a warm welcome followed by a short “I’d like to thank everybody for attending today.”
Not this Tuesday.
Gill, ever the steady personality, opened with a bang, showing in no uncertain terms that he understands what lies ahead as KU prepares to take on No. 15 Missouri at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
“I’m excited,” Gill said. “This week is here. This week is here. The Missouri game.”
Around these parts, nothing more really needs to be said. Although the Jayhawks enter the game with a 3-8 record, including a 1-6 mark in Big 12 play, you never would know it by listening to — and watching — Gill on Tuesday.
Eleven months ago, when Gill was introduced as KU’s new football coach in the Mrkonic Auditorium, he spoke about beating Missouri. Tuesday, at that same podium, Gill insisted those words were not cheap and shared a little insight into how he learned so quickly about the Border War rivalry.
“My daughter talked to me,” said Gill, referring to his oldest daughter, Jordan, a junior at KU. “She’s told me about that since she decided to come to Kansas, so I’ve had that for two or three years from the perspective of a student.”
In the days since his hire, Gill has heard dozens more pleas from diehard KU fans about the importance of beating the Tigers. But none resonated quite as loudly as six simple words from his daughter.
“‘Dad, you better win this one,’” Gill said, recalling exactly what words of wisdom Jordan gave him.
For the longest time, facing Missouri was like some mythical beast that Gill always imagined but never fully understand. That changed around 3 p.m. Saturday.
“It got turned on pretty quick after the Oklahoma State game,” Gill said. “My heart and everything is ready to get this one going. This is for our fans, our alumni, our players. On Sunday, they were very spirited, they were upbeat, they were focused, and they were ready.”
They weren’t the only ones. Several Jayhawks said they’ve seen their head coach operate with a different demeanor already this week.
“As soon as he got in the locker room after the last game, the first thing he talked about was Mizzou week,” junior defensive lineman Richard Johnson said.
Added quarterback Jordan Webb: “The way he’s approached this week, it’s a little bit different. We’re still as focused as we have been, but he told us he understands the rivalry and the importance. Everybody knows it’s a huge game.”
Jayhawks not taking the bait
Missouri week would not be complete without a little trash talk from both sides. Clearly willing to oblige, Missouri sophomore T.J. Moe had some rather scathing things to say about this week’s opponent during Monday’s media session in Columbia, Mo.
Asked on Tuesday to respond to Moe’s comments, many of the Jayhawks hadn’t even heard them yet.
Here they are:
“I don’t like them,” Moe told the Kansas City Star. “I can’t give them credit for anything. They don’t have an advantage anywhere. I don’t think being the underdog is an advantage. I just know that we’re going to go out there and give them our best shot And I hate them.”
Moe, who hails from O’Fallon, Mo., wasn’t finished.
“I’ve been a Mizzou fan my whole life,” he continued. “From day one. Every time I see a (KU) shirt I just want to burn it.”
The Jayhawks in attendance at Tuesday’s news conference had more questions than reaction.
“Who said that?” Johnson asked.
“T.J. Moe,” a reporter replied.
“That’s what he said?” Johnson said. “OK. Cool, cool. I’ll take note of that.”
Added junior linebacker Steven Johnson: “What is he? A wide receiver? What’s his name, Moe what? T.J. Moe? OK. Even though it’s a big rivalry, I respect Mizzou. They’re ranked No. 15 in the nation. But this week, it’s one game, and we’re gonna try the very hardest that we can to be the best team we can for that three hours or so that we’re on the football field. I’m not gonna talk any trash. I’m just gonna keep taking this coal in so I can get my fire burning.”
Gill said he had no regular routine for handling bulletin-board material. However, he added that creating one would not be that difficult.
“I mean, if we need to have that, we can make some arrangements,” he said. “But that’s all talk, the things that happen in the papers. It’s all about going and playing the game.”
Webb to start at QB
Gill said red-shirt freshman Jordan Webb would start at quarterback in KU’s finale, putting an end to a string of four straight starts by junior Quinn Mecham.
Webb, a Union, Mo., native, started six straight games earlier this season, but injured his left shoulder before halftime during KU’s loss to Texas A&M; and missed the next three games. He returned last week in a reserve role and finished 6-of-9 for 36 yards while playing the fourth quarter.
Webb said Tuesday he was 100 percent — he said he was last week, as well — and excited to face the Tigers.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all season,” Webb said. “And pretty much since I committed here. When I found out, I was definitely happy.”
KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said the decision to go with Webb over Mecham was a tough one but that Webb ultimately got the nod because of his big-play ability and the things he showed against Oklahoma State.
“That helped, Long said. “Jordan did come in and did grade out well in the game in the limited snaps he did have.”
It looks as if sophomore safety Lubbock Smith, who is still recovering from the effects of a concussion, will miss his third straight game Saturday. Smith was not listed on KU’s two-deep depth chart Tuesday.
In addition, senior offensive lineman Sal Capra was listed as questionable due to an ankle injury.
Gill said he expected Capra to play, and Capra backed that claim.
“I’m ready to go,” Capra said. “I’ve told people that they’d have to almost kill me to stop me from playing my last game as a Jayhawk against Missouri.”