Illinois Fighting Illini Fall Flat in Season Opener

Oliver VanDervoort@bovandyCorrespondent ISeptember 6, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 30: Juice Williams #7 of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini is sacked against the University of Missouri Tigers during the State Farm Arch Rivalry game at the Edward Jones Dome on August 30, 2008 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Tigers beat the Fighting Illini 52-42.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

This was not how the 2009 season was supposed to start. 

Going up against a Missouri Tigers team that was having to replace several key offensive players, including quarterback Chase Daniel, and all world receiver Jeremy Maclin, the Illini felt this was both a winnable game, and a statement game, all rolled into one.

Instead, the game appeared frighteningly similar to far too many other losses the team has been dealt during the Ron Zook era. 

Yes, Arrelious Benn had to leave the game early on with an ankle injury. 

Yes, Illinois' starting running back also had to leave the game with an injury of his own. 

Neither of those losses explain the whupping the Illini took in St. Louis.  

Neither offense showed much of anything in the first half, and, if Illinois had managed to put some points on the board, then the game could have gone in a completely different direction. 

With their offense looking sluggish, the the tide turned when the Illini were down 13-3, and had the ball on the Missouri 21 yard line, with one yard to go on fourth down. 

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The Illini decided to go for the first, instead of kicking yet another field goal.  The play was extinguished when one of the Illinois lineman stepped on Juice Williams foot. 

Juice went down behind the line, turning the ball over on downs.

Missouri drove down the field, and despite a dropped pass that prevented the Tigers from scoring another touchdown; Missouri hit another fieldgoal to make the game 16-3 and realistically put the game out of reach for Illinois.

After halftime, instead of Illinois making needed changes that would provide a way for the team to make the game an actual contest, the team came out flat, and out of sorts. 

Missouri took the ball to start the second half, and promptly drove down the field culminating in a three yard touchdown pass by new Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. 

With the score 23-3, Illinois badly needed an answer, and seemed to be getting one in their next drive.  Illinois appeared to be driving down the field, but the momentum was immediately killed when Jeff Cumberland first caught a 16 yard pass and then fumbled the ball away.  Missouri took the ball down field, and responded with yet another touchdown, making the score 30-3, and putting an end to any real challenge.

Illinois did finally score their first touchdown of the season, a Mikel LeShoure one yard run.  But even when Illinois managed to do something right, they got something else wrong.  Kicker Matt Eller missed the extra point, and the score stood at 30-9.

Missouri added yet another touchdown to make the final score 37-9, and gave the Tigers their fifth straight victory over Illinois, with this game being by far the most one-sided in the recent rivalry games.

It was a particularly frustrating game for Juice Williams.  The Illini quarterback had spent much of the off season rededicating himself to the team, and working on improving his game.  Williams completed 18 of 28 passes for just 179 yards and an interception. 

The pick was only partly his fault however, as his rocket throw glanced off his receiver's arms, and into the defender's waiting embrace.

Williams was also bottled up on the ground, rushing for just 27 yards on 13 carries.

The last time Illinois beat Missouri was in 1994, when the Illini won 42-0