Thursday, August 28, 2008

MU-Illinois Preview

By Commissioner

Well, it’s almost time to get the 2008 season underway. This year’s opener is huge because it will set the tone for the season. Win, and the Tigers are set up for a run at the national title (there’s something I never thought I’d be writing without sarcasm). Lose, and there will be talking heads all over the country lining up to say 2007 was a fluke. We can still have a great season with a loss on Saturday, but if we want a season for the record books, the Tigers need a win.

That being said, I have the utmost faith in Coach Pinkel’s ability to get his guys ready for this game. After all, as important as this game is, the Tigers have shown repeatedly over the last year that they can win big games. You can’t tell me this is any bigger than kU last year and we know how that ended up. You also have to like the senior leadership on this team. Do you really think Chase and Wily Mo will let these guys lose focus? Bottom line, they’ll be ready.

But what about Illinois? They don’t have the same expectations, but they also have no reason to fear the Tigers. Mizzou never connected with a knockout punch last year when they were up big and the Illini climbed right back into it. They know (think?) they can play with the Tigers, and confidence is huge this early in the season. That’s why I the game will be a lot closer than most Tiger fans (and the Vegas oddsmakers) seem to think.

Tigers to Watch:

We know what to expect from guys like Chase Daniel, Chase Coffman, Jeremy Maclin, William Moore, Jeff Wulfert, etc. So that’s not where I’ll be watching. Like so many other Mizzou fans, I’ll have my eyes trained on the left side of the offensive line to start the game. If Elvis Fisher can get the job done on the left side, it could be an easy win for the Tigers. But if the D-line can get pressure on Daniel’s blind side, causing turnovers, etc., it could get messy.

I’m also excited to see which of the freshman receivers leaves his mark on the game. Jerrell Jackson has been making dazzling plays in practice, and Andrew Jones should see some time at TE. But I’m sure Wes Kemp will want to get in there and do his best Jeremy Maclin impression by putting on a show in his hometown. Brad Smith also had his coming out party at the Dome. If one of these freshmen can make a similar first impression, it will be a long day for the Illinois secondary.

Illini to Watch

Everyone is going to talk about Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. But I’m not really worried about either of them. Mizzou tends to handle mobile quarterbacks pretty well, and Benn can only do so much with Juice throwing him one-hoppers. I’ll be watching junior running back Daniel Dufrene to see if he can step into the big shoes left by Rashard Mendenhall. Dufrene had 58 yards in last year’s game on only six carries. The Tigers have to slow him down to win.

The marquis player on the other side of the ball is Vontae Davis at cornerback. Tiger fans might remember Davis from his blocked punt in last year’s contest. He will, of course, be matched up against Maclin. I’m sure Davis is great, but I’m amused by the number of Illinois fans who think Davis simply cancels out Maclin. You can’t take Maclin out of the game with single coverage, and I hope the Illinois coaches are dumb enough to try. That’s not an insult to Davis, who is a very good DB... but Mizzou just does too much with Maclin for one guy to stop him. I’ll say this though... if Davis is able to man up Maclin all day and shut him down, he’s probably the best DB in the country. The bad news for Illinois: Last time I checked, we have more than one receiver. Who’s covering the rest of them?

Keys to the Game:

1. Battle in the trenches: I really think this game will be won or lost in the trenches. Oklahoma showed last year that the only way to stop Mizzou’s offense is to get pressure with the front four. The Illini D-line is not nearly as good as OU, but they are talented and going up against a somewhat inexperienced MU offensive line. If they can pressure Chase, they’ve got a chance. On the flip side, I’ve heard that Illinois is going to blitz a lot. Let’s hope so, Tiger fans. They might get to Chase a couple times, but he’ll also burn them repeatedly. If you are Illinois, the pressure has to come up front.

2. Mizzou getting on top early: I haven’t seen the Illini this year (obviously), but I have to assume that they are a similar team – which means they aren’t really built to come from behind. On the flipside, they have the ability to grind out the clock with Juice and Dufrene if they get a lead. While I don’t expect the Tigers to fold under the pressure, things could get interesting if Illinois takes the lead late in the game. But if Mizzou gets ahead by a couple scores early, I think this one could be over. Do you really see Juice Williams throwing it all over the field and leading them to victory? I don’t. But I know you’re all thinking, “Uh, what about last year?” That brings me to point 3...

3. Killer instinct: For years, Pinkel’s teams didn’t have it at all (see: the entire 2004 season). Last year, they showed it in flashes, pummeling Nebraska and Arkansas. But for every 41-6, there was a game where the Tigers were up big in the second half and then seemed to stop playing. That’s why MU fans have a completely different view of the Illinois and kU games last year than our opponents. We remember being up big and we remember winning. We conveniently forget that empty feeling we all got when we thought it might slip away. Hopefully the Tigers have learned their lesson. I don’t want Pinkel to worry about running up the score... and that goes for the whole season. If we’re up 21, make it 28.... make it 35. I would much rather defend the Tigers against critics who say we run up the score than blow a 24-point lead in the second half.


Last season, the Tigers only scored fewer than 30 points once. I don’t see it happening on Saturday, and I think that’s the only way Illinois wins it. Mizzou 34, Illinois 27.

Pop quiz:

Can you name the only two Tiger starters who are not from Missouri or Texas?

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