Last season in this great border war match-up, Illinois lost 40-36 to Missouri. After looking at the game film from last year it's obvious that Illinois just didn't take care of the football. Starting QB Juice Williams was injured and left the game in the second quarter after taking a blow to the head. For precautionary reasons, Head Coach Ron Zook kept Williams from participating in the remainder of the game.
Countless times (three) Illinois would reach the red zone but came up empty due to turnovers. Williams was replaced in the game with freshman QB Eddie McGee, who looked brilliant at times, though at other times you saw his inexperience. In the final minute McGee threw an interception at the goal line with Illinois only trailing by six points.
Zook knows Illinois must take care of the ball if his team has a chance to prove the odds- makers wrong. This is a different Illinois team, one Zook thinks is a lot better than last year. "I've been saying all year that I think we're a better team right now. But if we don't take care of the football, if we give up big plays on defense, if we don't hit our side in the kicking game, then none of those things really matter. We're getting ready to play one of the top teams in the country," said Zook.
During Monday's press conference it was discussed if the Illinois defense will be able to slow down Missouri's high-powered offense. QB Chase Daniel and WR Jeremy Macklin will be better and will test Illinois' defense. Missouri runs the spread offense just like Illinois, which causes a lot of pressure for starting LBs Brett Miller and Martez Wilson. Both will have to make plays past the line of scrimmage. "We made a lot of mistakes and we've tried to correct them. We've just been preparing for them and trying to play mistake free. We made a lot of mistakes last year," Wilson stated. Just as Zook said, "Playing sound football but not allowing the big plays will be key."
We all know about Chase Daniel and Juice Williams. Two players to keep an eye on just so happen to wear the same uniform number (#9): Jeremy Macklin and Arrelious Benn. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit just recently put together his "The Nation's Best: Eighth Annual Herbie Awards." Macklin and Benn were listed as two of the Top 5 players that can do it all, with Macklin checking in at #1 and Benn #3. Who's the better player at this point? It's tough to tell, but based on last year's overall numbers you would have to give the edge to Macklin. Don't forget though that Benn was injured, which kept him from showcasing his skills. Illinois figures to find as many ways as possible to get Benn the ball. He will start at WR, special teams, and maybe in the backfield. Illini fans hope he doesn't wear down late in the game.
Most experts feel this will be a low scoring game. After reviewing last year's game again, I say the opposite. Both teams will be stronger and a year older. No way will this not be another shootout in St. Louis.