All across the country, Senior Day is an important occasion to pay tribute to players that have been in a program for four or five years and put in time, energy, effort, and passion to help represent their school in collegiate sports.
These players give their peers and alumni something to be proud of, and Senior Day is their day to be acknowledged.
But Senior Day at the University of Missouri this season is going to represent something more. Three years ago on July 12, 2005, young linebacker Aaron O’Neal, out of Parkway North High School in St. Louis, passed away after voluntary workouts with his teammates. Many fans have seen various Mizzou seniors wearing No. 25 in honor of O’Neal this year, the team’s way of paying homage to their fallen comrade.
O’Neal is still listed on the roster and in the team media guide. Box score operators even accidentally gave him credit for a touchdown scored earlier this year by Tommy Saunders. He is very much a still part of the school and the program. So when he is honored on senior day, it might be the most emotional ceremony ever at a Mizzou football game.
Focusing on the 22 seniors playing their last game at Faurot Field, the Tigers have had an amazing amount of success with these players. The Class of 2009 has unquestionably been the best in Missouri history.
To date, this group has won 34 games, two bowl games, had a Heisman finalist, All-Americans, and other honors. Even more impressive is the fact that three of the starters on this year’s team are seniors that are previous walk-ons—Tommy Saunders, Colin Brown, and Jeff Wolfert.
Kansas State Head Coach Ron Prince announced this week that he is stepping down at K-State after this season, and the Wildcats have never looked worse. They’ve lost four of their last five and have given up an average of 55 points in their last two games. That doesn’t bode well against Missouri.
Barring a stunning twist or two, this game should be a Tiger blowout, but let’s take a look at what Missouri will have to do to avoid a bad surprise.
5. Send off the seniors right!
This actually has nothing to do with winning, but let’s see our seldom-used seniors play! I want to see Chase Patton winging the ball all over the field. Jimmy Jackson should get 20 carries, and Tommy Saunders should have at least one TD.
This is the one time that Missouri should NOT ease off the gas. Let the seniors that get in the game late actually run the offense instead of simply running out the clock.
Last season William Moore had eight interceptions. Because of all the blitzing he’s done this year, he has none. That needs to change. The secondary in general must start creating turnovers. Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman has eight picks and has a tendency to try to fit the ball into tight holes with his huge arm. If Missouri can take advantage of that, they’ll be golden.
3. Pound the ball
Kansas runningback Jake Sharp gashed the Wildcats for 181 yards and four TDs on 21 carries last week, so Missouri should have similar success.
Derrick Washington has been pretty successful in his last two games, and Jimmy Jackson found the end zone against Baylor. Look for Jackson to have a big day on Senior Day against a weak run defense.
2. Coddle that pigskin
Three turnovers against Baylor is unacceptable, and a better team would have made the Tigers pay. K-State is not a better team. Still, it’s embarrassing! And terrible for morale. It doesn’t have to happen, but it’d be great to see Chase Daniel and Co. take care of the damn ball in the next couple of weeks before the Border War.
1. Gain an early lead
Get the crowd in the game and make the Wildcats throw the football. Josh Freeman is the team’s leading rusher with 313 yards on 76 carries for 4.1 yards per carry, so if the Tigers get a 14-point lead or so, the Tigers can rush three and sit back in the secondary. With Ziggy Hood and Brian Coulter playing so well as of late, it would be ideal to get their corners and safeties a couple of picks.
This game should be an easy one for Mizzou. I just hope that the seniors who have really put in their time with the team are rewarded late in the game. Here’s to hoping that Chase Patton gets two touchdown passes: 61-16 Mizzou.