Missouri Tigers Stern Test For Illini Team

The Missouri Tigers lost a number of stars off last year's team, including six players selected for the NFL draft. But they are reloading, not rebuilding. There is still plenty of talent in the cupboard, so the Illini football team will have its hands full in St. Louis against the Tigers Saturday afternoon.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel lost 23 lettermen and yet has experience at every position. He has replaced both his offensive and defensive coordinators since last season, but the style of football remains the same. Since the Tigers have had their way with Illinois in recent years, they will play with a great deal of confidence Saturday.

Offensive superstars Chase Daniel, a record-breaking quarterback, sensational receiver/punt returner Jeremy Maclin, tall tight end Chase Coffman and kicker Jeff Wolfert are gone, and they'll be missed. But Mizzou pundits are convinced they will score at least 30 points against Illinois.

Sophomore Blaine Gabbert leads the revamped offense. The 6'-5", 240 pound high school All-American has a cannon for an arm and the speed to be a dangerous runner. He played enough as a freshman to erase the nervousness of his first starting assignment. And he has an offense that is ideal for his talents.

Running back Derrick Washington (6'-0", 225) returns. He split the Illini defense for 142 big yards last year and continued his success throughout the season, earning second team All-Big 12 honors. His replacement, De'Vion Moore (5'-9", 195) is good enough to spell Washington without loss of efficiency. And they have a promising freshman backing them up.

The receivers are all big and experienced, although word from the Missouri camp is they've been inconsistent catching the ball. Jared Perry (6'-1", 180) slumped last year but was excellent two years ago. Danario Alexander (6'-4", 215) is a tremendous talent when healthy, but he has struggled with knee problems the last two years.

Sophomore Wes Kemp (6'-4", 225) is a highly promising sophomore. Top backups include Jerrell Jackson (6'-1", 190) and Brandon Gerau (6'-0", 175).

Missouri uses its tight ends extensively in their pass offense. Sophomore Andrew Jones (6'-5", 235) caught 20 passes last year and starts. His backup could be key for the Tigers as they like to use two tight ends. Sophomore Michael Egnew (6'-6", 225) is inexperienced but highly promising.

The offensive line is experienced at most positions. It is led by right guard Kurtis Gregory (6'-5", 305) and center Tim Barnes (6'-4", 310), and both are candidates for post-season honors. Left tackle Elvis Fisher is a talented sophomore who started last year. And sophomore Austin Wuebbels (^'-4", 305) takes over at left guard.

According to the Missouri people, the key to their line will be right tackle Dan Hoch (6'-7", 320). The massive sophomore played as a true freshman, but a knee ligament strain caused him to miss half of preseason practice. They say he will be ready to go. If not, Gregory moves to tackle, and his replacement at guard is an untried reserve. This combination did not fare well in scrimmages.

The Tigers claim their defense is the fastest in their history. The front seven should be especially strong, led by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (6'-2", 250), a first team pre-season All-American, and nose guard Jaron Baston (6'-1", 305). Weatherspoon destroyed Illinois last year and expects to do the same in 2009.

MU also brags about its speed off the edge. Brian Coulter (6'-4", 250) starts on one side, and sophomore Jacquies Smith (6'-4", 250) and redshirt freshman Aldon Smith (6'-5", 255) share the other side. The Tigers have high hopes for the two Smiths, and Illinois will be hard pressed to keep them off their quarterback. Sophomore Terrell Resonno (6'-5", 295) starts opposite Baston at tackle.

Other linebacker starters are Luke Lambert (6'-3", 235) and Andrew Gachkar (6'-3", 235). The defensive backfield includes cornerbacks Kevin Rutland (6'-0", 195) and Carl Gettis (5'-11", 195), both juniors. Gettis is considered vulnerable for long passes by some, but he is a two year starter. The starting safeties are sophomore Kenji Jackson (5'-10", 195) and senior Hardy Ricks (6'-0", 200).

The Mizzou defense is fast, strong, and aggressive. They fly around and like to create turnovers. The Illinois offense will be a good test for them, but they have a swagger that serves them well. If their offense lives up to the pre-season hype, they will have another successful season.

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