Turner Gill will join a whole bunch of Kansas fans in waiting.
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The Jayhawks’ season ended on Saturday with a 24-10 loss to Missouri in what may be the final edition of the 120-year-old Border War rivalry, and now Gill’s future becomes the biggest question surrounding the struggling Kansas program.
Gill is just 5-19 in two seasons at Kansas. Only one of those wins was against a Big 12 team: Colorado, which fired coach Dan Hawkins soon after the loss last season.
Gill said Saturday night that he was proud of how much heart his players showed against the Tigers, and that he believes the team has made progress since he took over for the fired Mark Mangino, even if that hasn’t always showed up in the team’s record.
”They’ve always shown that through the season, they never quit,” Gill said. ”I told them I loved them. I tried to acknowledge every one of them, especially the seniors.”
Gill thinks he’ll be given another season – he has three years and $6 million left on his contract – but he hasn’t yet spoken with athletic director Sheahon Zenger about his future.
Quarterback Jordan Webb said Gill hasn’t talked to the team about it, either.
”He put us in position to win a lot of ballgames, and there were a few that just didn’t bounce our way,” said Webb, who was 9 for 20 for 60 yards and two interceptions against the Tigers.
Linebacker Steven Johnson said he thought it would be unfair to fire Gill after two seasons, while Missouri coach Gary Pinkel acknowledged the pressure that coaches are under to succeed.
”A lot goes with it, and that’s the world we live in,” Pinkel said. You got to accept that.”
There was a meager crowd of 47,059 on hand at Arrowhead Stadium to see what could be the finale of a series that began in 1891, and is second in games played only to Wisconsin-Minnesota among major college football rivalries. Those who were left on a cold, dreary afternoon – mostly clad in black and gold – began chanting ”SEC! SEC!” in the closing minutes.
The Tigers (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) improved their bowl prospects by winning their third straight to finish the regular season. Pinkel believes that will be good enough for a decent bowl, even though he acknowledged that Missouri won’t be high on the Big 12’s list of priorities as it heads to the SEC.
”When you’re 4-5, you have the integrity of the program to protect,” Pinkel said. ”We’ve done enough around here in recent years, becoming bowl eligible and all those things is important.”
Missouri quarterback James Franklin was the MVP for the Jayhawks (2-10, 0-9) early on.
Franklin, who had gone four games without throwing an interception, was picked off by Tyler Patmon midway through the first quarter – the first of three straight drives that ended with picks.
On their ensuing series, Franklin was pressured by Toben Opurum and threw a wobbly pass that was intercepted by Greg Brown. He returned it 20 yards to the Tigers 15, but the Jayhawks could manage only a field goal when three plays netted them minus-1 yard.
Franklin’s third pick was the most costly.
Facing third-and-16 from the 47, the sophomore quarterback threw a pass that was undercut by Kansas safety Bradley McDougald. He started up the Missouri sideline, bobbing and weaving his way through traffic before sprinting the rest of the way for a 57-yard touchdown return.
The first pick-six for the Jayhawks since Sept. 19, 2009, made it 10-0.
”My teammates and coaches were telling me, `It’s all right, don’t worry about it,”’ Franklin said. ”That’s what gave me confidence, because all my teammates were there supporting me.”
The Tigers finally got something going on offense later in the second quarter, marching 59 yards in 5:12 – largely on the ground – before Trey Barrow kicked a 23-yard field goal.
The Jayhawks looked like a two-win team on their first possession of the second half, when three plays netted minus-2 yards. When they tried to punt it away, the snap nearly went over the head of Ron Doherty, giving Missouri the ball at the Kansas 14-yard line.
It took Kendial Lawrence only three carries to tie the game at 10.
After the Jayhawks were forced to punt, the Tigers went 93 yards for a score; the big plays were a 22-yard completion to Jerrell Jackson, a 20-yard run by T.J. Moe and a 25-yard TD pass from Franklin to Wes Kemp in the back of the end zone. The pass was initially called incomplete, but the officials reviewed it and ruled that Kemp’s feet came down inbounds.
Franklin hit Marcus Lucas for a 53-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, at which point the side of Arrowhead clad in red and blue began clearing out – quite possibly for the final time against Missouri.
”I hope that doesn’t happen. There’s got to be a way to work it out,” Pinkel said. ”Why can’t it work? Just decide that it’s important.”