The Arch Rivalry game really is a misnomer.
The Missouri Tigers have taken down the Illinois Fighting Illini in 16 of the 23 times they have played, and have won all five of the games since the “rivalry” started back up in the early 2000’s.
For whatever reason, since the Illini have dominated the Border War basketball series (winning 20-of-28 matchups), everyone seems willing to ignore it.
All that is really needed for a rivalry is a great game atmosphere, rabid fanbases that don’t care for each other and being located closely together.
Apparently, the quality of the games is not necessarily important. Who knew?
By Paul Schmidt
This year will, most likely, be no different. Missouri comes in as a much more highly regarded team, which says a lot considering the Tigers are probably a mid-pack Big XII team. But I digress…
Here’s a quick, speedy and convenient breakdown of the things you’ll need to know for tomorrow’s big game…
Brew The Coffee
Before we get into the players and strategies, make sure you get up and set the alarm on your cell phone, and get your coffee maker ready to go, because we’ve got an 11:30 AM kickoff tomorrow. Do it now, because you know you’ll be out late partying tonight because it’s Labor Day weekend, and you’ll have a couple too many and then you’ll forget.
Don’t worry, I’ll wait for you.
Men Behaving Badly
Perhaps saying Derrick Washington is a man is a gross overstatement. Given what he’s accused of, there are plenty, more colorful adjectives that I could come up with. However, he is just that, accused. The actions are merely alleged, and he will have his day in court, so until then, Washington remains a man…
…and not a convicted sexual predator. He was booted from the Tigers’ team (or permanently suspended, if you prefer, though that doesn’t make a ton of sense) because of these charges filed against him, meaning many of the carries will fall to a running-back-by-committee, headed up by sophomore Kendial Lawrence and junior De’Vion Moore. Both are capable, though it may not matter because…
…Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel says his team wants to throw, throw, throw. That’s his game plan to beat Illinois — let Blaine Gabbert throw the ball all day long and then, just for the heck of it, throw it some more.
The reason this makes sense is that half of Illinois’ starting secondary at the start of the month of August is now out for several weeks at the start of the month of September.
Supo Sanni is gone for the year with a torn Achilles tendon, but fortunately will be able to use an injury redshirt and not lose a year of eligibility. Senior Travon Bellamy steps in as a starting safety with a lot of experience, but the athletic, big-hitting Sanni will be missed.
An even bigger hit was taken about a week later, however, when Terry Hawthorne suffered a stress fracture in his right foot. He will miss 4 to 6 weeks. Everyone who has seen Hawthorne play has raved about the blend of speed and athleticism he brings to the field and the Illinois secondary at cornerback, so the loss will be huge. Even worse, Hawthorne had a screw inserted in his fifth metatarsal, so who knows how he’ll be able to perform with that once he comes back.
The Illini will head into battle with some new generals working below their commander in chief, Ron Zook. Paul Petrino heads up the offense and Vic Koenning mans the defense.
Petrino’s offense will throw myriad looks at the Tigers’ defense, and the hope is that they will never know what’s coming. That should benefit the new Illini quarterback, redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase. You know…provided HE can remember what’s coming…
Koenning’s defense will attack, attack, attack. Their propensity to blitz may have to be toned down with so much of the secondary hurt (it might be easier to get burned deep), but expect a better prepared Illini D, at the very least.
The Illini have a lot to prove to everyone, and whether they admit they are or not, they are most likely playing for head coach Ron Zook’s job. No one is also giving the Illini a chance, so there is the “No one believes in us!” factor.
Mizzou, however, wants to prove that all the offseason distractions (Washington, three DWIs) are behind them. They want to prove they are a little better than everyone is giving them credit for.
They probably also wouldn’t mind the chance to show up the Big Ten on a national stage after they failed to secure an invitation to the Big Ten, allegedly because they wouldn’t bring much, if any, extra interest to the Big Ten Network. It’s probably safe to say they didn’t appreciate that assertion.
Final Thoughts and a Prediction
I’m an Illinois homer, through and through, and though I haven’t drank the Ron Zook Kool Aid about this team being as good if not better than the Rose Bowl team on paper, I thought they had a chance to take Mizzou out this weekend. I thought it was highly likely that they would be looking past the Illini to every other game on their schedule given their recent domination in the “rivalry.”
With half the starting secondary out, however, and with Missouri’s desire to throw the ball all the live-long-day, it would appear that they will have a difficult time matching up with the Tigers.
The Tigers’ defense is depleted from graduation the last two years, so many of the players that you saw making big plays against the Illini have graduated (I’m looking at you, Sean Witherspoon), so the Illini could make some hay against a defense that is green.
However, injuries take their toll. The Illini defense isn’t especially deep and they are shallowest in the secondary, so it was the one place that they couldn’t afford to lose bodies. It almost doesn’t even matter that Sanni and Hawthorne are starters — the loss of backups there would have been just as deadly.
Illinois will probably be able to score on Mizzou. The problem is, they won’t be able to stop the Tigers at any point in time…
Prediction: Missouri 49, Illinois 31
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