Illini Mizzou Preview: Can We Please End This Rivalry Now?
I love football, football season, the band, the three in one, the tail gating, the grilled foods and games of bags in the parking lot. College football is the greatest season known to sports, and it is for that reason I cannot wait to have this rivalry with Missouri out out to pasture like a lame horse. In past seasons, like say, the last three, Missouri offered an early test to what many thought could be a decent to good Illini teams. In every case it ended in a loss, in all but one case it led to the Illini not making a bowl. It has been a bad match up for this program, and hasn't served to benefit the Illini in any discernible way (which do you think was the bigger reason the Illini got Hawthorne and Scheelhaase, the Arch Rivalry losses or the Rose Bowl appearance?)
Three years ago the game featured an injury to our quarterback in the first quarter, last year our star wideout was injured in the first series! I am all for playing good competition out of conference, but why should Illinois schedule make its road to a bowl that much harder by playing a team that has gone to a bowl five straight seasons as its opener every year?
Starting the year off with Missouri, especially on a year where we are trying to rebuild, learn a new offense, break in a new quarterback, and replace two important offensive linemen, makes this opening weekend one of mixed emotions. I would rather we wait til the opening three weeks of the Big Ten season to give this offense a baptism by fire. Sadly that is not the case, and the Illini will certainly have their work cut out for them this weekend.
The worst match up, or perhaps least favorable, is the passing offense of Missouri against our defensive secondary. Last year Blaine Gabbert (remember him?) passed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns against our defensive secondary. He threw no interceptions, and even ran for 39 yards on 10 carries, better than any Illini rusher. It was a bad day for the Illini secondary, and given the news about Terry Hawthorne and Suppo Sanni last week and today's announcement that Justin Green and Jack Ramsey will be moved from offense to defense to fill in the holes, i would say Blaine Gabbert will have quite a few open options waiting for him.
The Tigers running game, (should they need it) did take a hit with Derrick Washington being suspended for legal reasons, and Clay Nurse and Corey Liuget were already likely to be disruptive in the ground game, at the very least we may expect Missouri to be one dimensional.
My one hope for success against this team is that the Illini offensive line plays much better than it did last year. This team will have to open up holes for the running backs very consistently in order for the passing game to really get set up. I doubt that the Illini will be throwing too many passes unless it falls behind by two scores early. If the offense can control the clock, get first down and advance down the field mostly on the ground, it will allow a freer hand for Petrino to use passing plays, and hopefully keep Mizzou relatively in check by reducing their number of possessions. Mizzou can score very quickly by passing as much as they do (58% of their offense was passing last year) if the Illini can slow the game down and have longer productive drives by playing possession football they should be able to at least blunt somewhat Mizzou's offensive firepower. (Just be glad Weatherspoon is in the NFL now.)
Keep it close and the scores low and anything can happen, but history suggests that it will not be a low scoring affair. The Illini have never given up less than 35 points to Missouri in the last three meetings, and it will take a very unexpected turn of events for that trend to be reversed.
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