With the much anticipated beginning of a new era in Fighting Illini football, expectations were high, and the team responded with a great first half of football, despite an interception and critical fumble. Unfortunately, there are two halves in a football game, and the second half looked like an entirely different game.
The Illinois “new look” ball-control offense showed up at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for approximately 30 minutes. That first half hour of the Arch Rival game against Missouri, the Illini offense controlled the clock and kept the Missouri offense off-balance. If not for a mental mistake from the three yard line — an illegal procedure call on Illinois left offensive tackle — Illinois should have gone into half time with a 17–3 lead. As I said in my Missouri preview article, these are physical mistakes with which I can live.
It was the mental mistakes inside the red zone that cost them a touchdown — forcing the Illini to settle for a field goal.
The second half was a game of no sustained drives and two interceptions. Plus, the Illini defense spent the entire third and fourth quarter on the field. It was all too much to overcome for the Illini. The Missouri defense, on the other hand, made great adjustments at half time. They used perimeter blitzes to contain QB Nathan Scheelhaase and the fighting Illini offense for too many three-and-outs.
If this second half was any indication of the season to come, Illini fans should be worried. There were no take-aways the entire second half. They also maintained a three man rush with no containment of QB Blaine Gabbert, and it cost the Illini defense two touchdowns. The secondary gave such generous cushions that they looked like they were in a prevent defense all day. How is it that Missouri receivers were able to get behind us on the inline for two touchdown receptions? It is fortunate that this game marks the end of the Arch Rival series. For the new alignment of Big Ten teams, it will be important that our non-conference schedule gets easier before the Big Ten schedule begins. Hopefully the Illini team learns from this game and shows up for the entire game next time.
Congratulations on a job well done to #5 Mikel Leshoure for gaining 100+ yards against a defense that returned eight starters, #8 A.J. Jenkins for the touchdown catch and the only receiver to gain yards after the catch. #93 Corey Liuget and #97 Clay Nurse for a valiant effort rushing against a five man line the entire third and fourth quarter. To #13 Derek Dimke for his 51 yard field goal. #87 Anthony Santella for two punts for 50+ yards.
On a more positive note, fans should not be discouraged into believing that 2007 was just a fluke. After all, the 2007 Rose Bowl team also lost to Missouri that year. They buckled down and did pretty well for themselves the rest of the season-only losing two more games before the bowl. Let’s not count the 2010 team out just yet.