Game Time: 2:40 CT
-2:00: Forty minutes before the game is due to start and the Dome is still pretty quiet considering the bad weather. I figured people would file in early but everybody's still tailgating. So far the crowd is split pretty evenly.
Pregame thoughts: Both teams look hyped, particularly Mizzou. This does not mean in any way, shape or form that they will play better. But they are younger and haven't lost to Illinois in St. Louis since the 19th century.
Mizzou Key to the Game: The running game. Whoever controls the ball will win this game. If D-Wash busts loose for 150 yards again, Mizzou should win. If Juice Williams breaks the 100 yard mark on the ground, Illini is probably rolling, and I'd hedge my bets on them.
Illinois Key to the Game: Avoid the turnover. Turnovers have crushed U of I the last two years. Pig Brown took a fumble the length of the field in 2007 then picked a ball off in the end zone to seal a shootout for Missouri. Last year Sean Weatherspoon came up with a big pick-six off Williams. If they take care of the ball, they probably win.
-2:30: Illinois' marching band is pretty bad ass.
An interesting side note to watch out for as the game clock ticks below ten minutes to go before game time. Sportsmanship. While you might not see any LaGarette Blount-style haymakers thrown, these two teams have a history.
Sean Weatherspoon tweeted 50 days ago that he was going to "squeeze the pulp out of Juice", referring to the star Illini quarterback, and while Ron Zook and Williams were diplomatic, they also decided against shaking hands before the game.
MU says that U of I are the ones that won't shake hands. Illinois is not denying that. So while Derrick Washington and Daniel Dufrene aren't claiming that the other side deserves "a** whuppings", the two sides aren't buddy-buddy.
-2:42: Mizzou kicks off. The Tigers are in a three linebacker set, different from their typical look last year that featured more defensive backs. Juice takes advantage of the typical MU cushion that the DBs give receivers, but the Dufrene gets nowhere on a run.
Juice is picking apart the secondary. Plain and simple, the U of I receivers have room to work. Illinois marching down the field.
Big 3rd and 11 after a bad Williams pass. Four wideouts. Carl Gettis comes flying in on the sideline and almost picks a pass off, Illinois will punt on their first drive. Missouri looks good versus the run but Juice looked pretty good at times too. MU ball at the 7 after a nice punt.
-2:48: Missouri back in their own end, I can't imagine they do much on Gabbert's first drive that's too crazy. After a negative run, Danario Alexander runs out past the 20. There's some cushion. Gabbert also keeps the ball Tebow-style a couple times (sorry for the heresy), then runs an option for the first down. This is slow and methodical, but Mizzou is moving the chains.
A 15-yard facemask penalty helps Mizzou move further down the field, but if you're a Missouri fan you gotta be terrified with what Blaine Gabbert just did. He saw pressure in the pocket and literally through the ball to nowhere. Sure, the ball wasn't picked off, but NOT a smart move. Now he's done it twice, and this time he's called for intentional grounding. He's young, but staying poised is important.
Mizzou can't convert a 3rd and 22, but they come close. Danario catches his fourth pass of the drive. Kicker Grant Ressel drills the first kick of his college career, a 32-yarder, and the Tigers go up 3-0.
-2:58: Illinois returns the kick to the 28, but good boot by MU's Tanner Mills.
Gotta comment on Danario Alexander. Two years ago rumor had it that Alexander had a better fall camp then Jeremy Maclin. That was the last time DA was completely healthy. I'd never compare him to J-Mac, but he can be very good if 100%. He caught four passes for 47 yards on that drive. Impressive numbers.
Illinois is playing small ball with two short plays, Juice is flushed out of the pocket and it looks like U of I will punt again. Good pressure by Missouri's d-line.
-3:06: Mizzou moving slowly but again, moving. A lot of running and short passes. They get their third first down past midfield and have thrown the ball once. Welcome to Blaine Gabbert's first career start.
...nevermind. Gabbert saw something he liked pre-snap, and had good friend and fellow sophomore Wes Kemp streaking down the sideline WIDE OPEN. Brilliant of Gabbert to see the seam. He's got his first TD pass of the day (a 49-yarder), Missouri up 10-0.
-3:14: I don't know if Illinois would be completely buried if they go down big just because of the fire power they have. The Zookster's squad can definitely score points. But if Juice and his offense don't get on the board here, you gotta figure momentum is swinging dangerously close to Missouri for good.
Zook goes back to the bread and butter: running with and through Juice. Smart. The Fighting Illini pick up a quick first down, and keep marching. Getting past midfield, Illinois hasn't passed once, and it's working like a charm. At the end of the quarter, Illinois is down to the Tigers' 14.
-3:20: After the second quarter begins, it's third and 3 Illini. Big play. Mizzou stuffs the run to the strong side, and it looks like Zook will play it safe and get the three points. He does. 10-3 Mizzou.
-3:26: Mizzou finally fields a kickoff and No. 9 receives, but that ain't Jeremy Maclin. Jasper Simmons, a JUCO transfer, is taken down just past the 20. The Tigers will miss him an enormous amount this season.
Jared Perry drops a catch, not sure if he should have had it, but he could have. Illinois is called for a dumb unnecessary roughness penalty. The Illini are more talented but definitely less disciplined thus far.
Illnois comes up with a big stop on third and 1, and Mizzou is forced to punt for the first time. Big stop by Illinois. Now they can tie it all up after a rough start. Typical Arch Rivalry with U of I coming back. A beautiful punt by Jake Harry lands the ball at the six deep in Illinois territory.
-3:33: Missouri has looked very good against tailback runs. They stall the Illini for a third and 10, flush Juice out of the pocket, but can't chase him down. He hooks up with Mikel Leshoure for a first down.
Another third down forced by the Tigers, this time five yards to go. Different result this time. Backfield pressure causes Juice to overshoot a throw, and the ball is picked off by senior safety Hardy Ricks. Missouri ball at the 26.
The Tigers get NOTHING on this drive. Not an inch. Way to step up by Illinois. Grant Ressel looks to connect on a 44-yarder and hits it. It wasn't pretty, but he hit it. Big game so far by Ressel to start his kicking career.
-3:41: Eddie McGee in the ball game at QB for Illinois. So is Juice (but not at QB). It didn't go well. Two plays, minus five yards. On third down, different story. Juice back at his normal spot, and he runs for eight yards. However...a little late on this drive. Illinois punts. Gotta wonder what Zook is thinking there.
BUT, no matter. Mizzou flagged for a roughing the kicker penalty, and Illinois has life again. It's redshirt frosh Kip Edwards. Pretty much nothing he could do to avoid it as he barely clipped punter Anthony Santella's leg, but it's a legit call.
Now Illinois is marching, capitalizing on their momentum. Mizzou is caught with too many men on the field and now quickly went from getting the ball back to having their opponent on their own 37-yard line.
After a brief stand by Mizzou, fourth and 1 faces the Illini. Look for Juice to get the ball.
He tripped in the backfield. Juice did get the ball, but fell down, and thus was down immediately without contact from the opposition. Big break for Mizzou. Their ball.
-3:53: The Tigers keep the chains moving on their drive after a Wes Kemp reception is labeled a catch after review. I personally thought there was no way he caught that in-bounds.
For Illinois, has their offense taken a step back? Are they just starting slow? Because they have put up three points with less than three minutes left in the first half against a team that returns almost nobody to an awful defense. If I'm an Illinois fan, I'm alarmed with how they have struggled to consistently move the bal so far this afternoon.
Missouri will have a fourth and 2 on the Illinois 28. I bet they go for it.
Danario Alexander catches a pass on the left sideline, first down Mizzou. Almost inside the 20 with the clock winding down on the half. Let's see if they play it safe or go for a TD.
True freshman TJ Moe drops the first collegiate pass thrown his way, and man was he open. Ressell tries for a 41-yarder with six seconds left, it's cash. He's been phenomenal in his first collegiate half. Hitting three FGs, two outside forty yards? Can't ask for more.
-4:02: Mizzou squibs the kick (so weird to type that phrase), and the clock goes out on the half. Missouri - 16, Illinois - 3. The MVP thus far? Ressell.
-THOUGHTS AT HALFTIME:
-Illinois' offense WILL break through. I'm sure of it. They have put up too many points on Mizzou and have too many horses to not get some big numbers on the scoreboard.
-Is Ressell this good? Sure he's indoors, but he's also a sophomore who hasn't kicked in a game once. Is he gonna keep drilling kicks? If so, Missouri doesn't have to move the ball as well as they would if U of I was getting into the endzone.
-Turnovers will rear their ugly head. I don't know if it'll be Juice or Blaine, but somebody's offense is gonna start coughing the ball up. Juice is too turnover prone, and Blaine is too young and unpoised to NOT turn the rock over...right?
-No Dufrene? Illinois running back Daniel Dufrene hasn't carried the ball once. Gotta assume the hammy injury was too much and he'll sit today out. That could be huge, because U of I running backs have run for a total of 45 yards on 14 carries (3.2 yds/carry).
-4:24: Just got big news in the press box, both Rejus Benn and Jason Ford will miss the rest of the game with sprained ankles. That is massive. Game-changing. It will be very tough for the Illini to put up big points on the scoreboard without those two.
Jasper Simmons puts up a decent return, it's called back for holding. Young team=dumb mistakes for Mizzou. Blaine Gabbert makes a nice play rolling out of the pocket to convert a first down early in the drive.
Danario Alexander (get used to hearing/seeing his name if healthy) breaks a tackle on a short slant over the middle, gains 31, Mizzou in business at Illinois' 28. The next play, Wes Kemp makes a gorgeous diving catch in the back of the end zone, but Gabbert led him too far. Out of bounds.
Danario Alexander is in beast mode. Gabbert spots the blitz, hits DA over the middle, and Alexander breaks numerous tackles, almost scoring over the right pylon. A couple plays later,and Gabbert hits Jerrell Jackson in the end zone for a touchdown. Gabbert handled the pressure pretty well there.
Not looking good for the Illinois, but then again, it didn't look good the last two years, and they came back and competed, making both games close. I'd be surprised if they rolled over and went away in 2009.
-4:34: Illinois clearly going for broke at this point. All passing plays, spread sets. A false start penalty stalls the drive but then Juice races out of the pocket to complete a long pass and first down. Followed by another seven-yarder.
Illinois is sharing the ball and moving the pigskin with relative ease. Then comes the fumble. Jeff Cumberland coughs the ball up after a nice run after the catch, and the Tigers are really in a position to put this game away.
Will they? They haven't in the past.
-4:38: The answer to my question is no. Missouri can't move the chains, as Gabbert's cannon overshoots Jared Perry on third down, and three-and-out gives the ball back to Illinois. U of I muffs the punt, but recovers.
Illinois hasn't really looked ready at any point yet. I still definitely don't count them out.
-4:44: The Illini look lifeless. Incompletion, minus one yard run, collapsed pocket that leads to an incomplete pass and Juice on his back. Defensive end Jacquies Smith was all over him that time. Three and out.
-4:48: Derrick Washington scampers for 11, then a third down pass to Danario for a first down. In Illini territory, Missouri busts this game open. Jared Perry catches a screen pass and somehow squeezes through a seam to score a 46-yard touchdown. Nice to get him in on the act for Mizzou.
This one looks like it's over. I held out hope for Illinois for a while, but it's 30-3 and they look like they're sleep walking out there. This drive will indicate whether I'm right or wrong, but if they don't score here, it's over.
-4:55: Illinois is good enough to get back into this game. But they are dink-and-dunk-ing their way up the field right now, and I don't think that's enough. They've ran over three minutes off the play clock, and only converted two first downs.
-5:02: End of the third quarter, Illinois still marching up the field, slowly but surely. Camped on Missouri's five-yard line, they are poised to score their first touchdown of the young 2009 season. Will their momentum be enough to get them back into the game?
-5:07: Fresh into the fourth quarter, Illinois converts a first down and keep their drive going. A touchdown seems inevitable, but there's really not that much to talk about. No play has gone for more than 11 yards this drive. No play has lost more than two yards.
Finally Mikel Leshoure punches in a one-yard TD, but even the seventh point won't go smoothly today for Illinois. Kicker Matt Eller nails the left cross bar, and it's 30-9 Missouri with 13:19 left to play.
5:11: Missouri starts this drive at their own 26. If they score points here, I'm putting the nail in the coffin. I'm guessing they'll go conservative and milk the clock. I'm not sure why, but Gary Pinkel has always pulled back the reins when his team is up but the game isn't quite over. Maybe he's not trying to run up the score, but it can lead to his team choking away games.
Wow. Gabbert's arm is just downright disgusting. He just threw 30 yards off his back foot on a complete dime down the right sideline to Jared Perry, first down Mizzou after facing a third and 19 deep in their own territory. Chase Daniel can't make that throw.27
Now he picks up and runs for 12 yards. No matter who you're rooting for, the kid is impressive today. The Tigers are moving the chains now pretty smoothly. After a big 32-yard gain by Illinois, Gabbert runs for a tough, Tebow-esque eight yard TD. No, he is not Tebow.
Call it a Jake Locker-esque TD. I don't care. Bottom line, today Gabbert has 313 yards passing, four total touchdowns, and it's his first career start. He's a big quarterback with a laser arm, and he's big and strong enough to run and pick up tough yardage. Mark this game as a successful debut.
-5:24: If you're looking for meaningful updates beyond this point, tune into a different game. It's 37-9 and I'm actually surprised Juice Williams is still in the game. He gets sacked on consecutive plays to end the drive, and Illinois punts.
Look to see some backups in for the Tigers.
-5:28: Former walk-on Jimmy Costello is into the game as the No. 2 quarterback. Very nice to get him some game reps. And with the first play, Kendial Lawrence burns his redshirt early with a carry for three yards. Look for Missouri to factor him into the offense more as the year goes on and he adjusts to the college game.
The Tigers second string offense isn't doing anything. Jake Harry punts for the second time today and it's another amazing effort. The ball is downed at the two. Illinois just cannot catch a break. They'll work with a long field.
-5:31: Juice is out of the game, and Eddie McGee peaked in 2007 here in St. Louis. For some reason Spoon is still in the game, and he crushes Hubie Graham on the sidelines after a catch. Then Jaron Baston brings down McGee, and Illinois punts again.
This game's over folks. Technically there are around three minutes left, but I doubt if either team gets another first down. Post-game thoughts after the post-game comments from coaches and players.
-POST GAME THOUGHTS:
-Blaine Gabbert was everything you could ask for. Almost 400 yards total offense, four TDs, no turnovers. He ran, he threw, he was good inside and outside of the pocket, and he did it all against a good opponent, in his hometown, in his first collegiate start. Well done Blaine.
-Juice Williams did nothing that you thought he'd do. I figured he might roast the Tiger secondary or run all over Mizzou, but he did neither. True, he didn't have Jason Ford and Rejus Benn all second half, but for a four-year starter who has in past years destroyed Missouri, he was awfully disappointing. 233 total yards and an interception is not a good day at the office for Juice. Especially against MU.
-I would not bet on Danario Alexander staying healthy. He's never done it, plain and simple. But if he does stay healthy, I would bet on him being a star. Nine receptions for 129 yards in his first game of 2009 bodes well for Mizzou, who has had a pass catcher drafted in the first three rounds the last two seasons.
-Is Ron Zook officially on the hot seat yet? He came in favored for the first time ever in the Arch Rivalry game, and got absolutely smoked. If Zook didn't have the more talented team, he certainly had the more experienced unit. The offense looked bad, Mizzou took what they wanted, and Zook had no answers. Putting up nine points against Missouri isn't an encouraging start to a year.