"We've got a lot of work to do."
For the second year in a row, the Illini got behind early and fought back to make a game of it. The final score gives hope for the future as the Illini did a lot right, but there is no doubt Missouri is the better team.
Junior quarterback Juice Williams had by far his best passing game as an Illini. Unofficial totals had him with 26 completions in 40 passes for 458 yards with two interceptions and five touchdown passes. His touchdown totals tied him with Tommy O'Connell and Jeff George with the second most touchdown passes in a game for an Illinois player.
Coach Zook was generally pleased with Williams.
"No question he stepped up. He made one or two bad calls, but you can tell he is much smoother."
Wide receivers Will Judson and Chris Duvalt each had two big touchdown receptions for the Illini. Judson in particular was spectacular as his speed finally asserted itself in game action. He had receptions for 31, 65 and 53 yards among his catches. And tight end Michael Hoomanawanui scored on the last play of the game to provide the final 10 point margin.
Illinois also was able to get three freshman receivers some action in the game. Fred Sykes caught two passes, and A. J. Jenkins returned a kickoff. Cordale Scott also played. Coach Zook knows he needs to get them used to the college game.
"Fred Sykes, A. J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott were out there as well. Those three guys will get better and better as we go along."
Unfortunately, Missouri's quarterback Chase Daniel showed why he was a Heisman finalist last year. Time and again, his deft touch and quick release bailed him out of difficult situations. And his proficiency running an extremely diverse attack allowed him to exploit Illnois weaknesses in the defensive secondary. Daniel was a threat to score on every possession.
Whenever it seemed the Illini were ready to make a run, Missouri would come right back and deflate those hopes. For example, defensive end Derek Walker made an outstanding interception of a Daniel pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown to make the score 13-10 Missouri.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Missouri superstar receiver/returner Maclin returned the kickoff 99 yards and a touchdown. Illinois had momentum for a total of 13 seconds. Had they been able to hold the Tigers at that point, it might have been a different game. But Maclin was simply too fast and too good for them.
Early in the game, it was obvious the Illini were tight and unsure of what Missouri was doing on both offense and defense. The Mizzou defense loaded up the line of scrimmage early to neutralize the Illini running game, much like USC did in the Rose Bowl. And their experience on defense showed as they mixed alignments and disguised coverages to confuse the Illini offense.
To beat an explosive offensive team like Missouri, one must score on nearly every possession and make no mistakes, but Illinois' delay in responding offensively forced them to play from behind the whole game. When the offense stalled, the Illini defense had to be on the field too long, and it tired. This made it even easier for the Missouri offense.
Missouri held Illinois to a minus 9 yards rushing in the first half, preventing any kind of a balanced attack. In the second half, with Juice starting to get some quick scores himself, it was the Missouri defense that tired. And it began to play a normal four man front to help defend against Juice Williams' passing accuracy. This allowed Illinois finally to get its running game going.
Daniel Dufrene asserted himself in the second half with several good runs. And he caught some passes for additional yardage. Freshman Jason Ford got a couple carries as well. Illinois was unable to get Arrelious Benn running upfield as Missouri keyed on him whenever he lined up in the backfield.
When Illinois began to make a game of it, star Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon put a stop to it. He intercepted two passes. On the second, he stole the ball from Dufrene's attempt at a pass reception and returned it for the clinching touchdown. Missouri always had an answer when it needed it.
Coach Zook was honest about the result as he looked to the future.
"We didn't play the way we're capable of playing. That's on me and the coaching staff. We'll get them ready to go beginning Monday."