Last year's game memorable for many reasons

It wasn't always this way. Brad Smith wasn't kissing any babies before the Illinois game last year. However, the Illinois game changed Smith's life forever. Damien Nash was also about to play in his first game at Coffeyville, a game that would change his life, but for a very different reason.

While Missouri was winning its season opener last season against Illinois, Damien Nash was going through a completely different experience; an excruciating one.

As Brad Smith led the Tigers to a 33-20 win, Nash was in agonizing pain after tearing his ACL in his first game with Coffeyville Community College. He heard word of the Missouri win in the hospital.

"I wasn't surprised, I knew they had a good team," Nash said. "The way they beat up on them, I thought it would be closer, but I wasn't surprised they won. It made my day a little better, but I was still disappointed because of the injury."

Now a running back for the Tigers, Nash hopes for a different experience, but the same result. He and Missouri get another chance to beat the Illini on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Edward Jones Dome.

"I'm not getting too much sleep," Nash said. When he does sleep, Nash said he doesn't have bad dreams about massive Illini linebacker Matt Sinclair tearing up his knee again.

"I have good dreams about tearing up Matt Sinclair and making him miss," Nash said. Brad Smith made a lot of people miss in last season's game, and it was the beginning of something special. Something really special.

As the first freshman to start at quarterback in Missouri history, Smith threw for 152 yards passing and rushed for 138 yards, stunning the sellout crowd at the dome. Smith answered all questions in three and half hours, and he went on to become the second college player in history to pass for 2,000 yards, while rushing for 1,000 yards in the same season.

"I expected to do well, as I always expect to do well," Smith said. "It was big. It gave us a lot of energy to go into the season."

Smith's performance led to his great season, but the Illini loss led to a complete collapse for Illinois. After falling to Missouri, Illinois lost four of its next five games. The Tigers, in essence, basically ruined Illinois' season with their upset win. Which is what makes winning the season opener again so important: the Tigers don't want it to happen to them.

"That's why at 3:30 this morning I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said on Monday. "I was thinking about all those things that you have to do right."

Quarterback Jon Beutjer, who threw for 2,511 yards last season and completed 59 percent of his passes, leads the Illini. But going into last season's opener, Beutjer wasn't even sure if he'd play at all. Beutjer was the backup quarterback in last season's game and relieved Dustin Ward in the second half after Ward had trouble even completing passes. This season, Beutjer is definitely the starter.

"From what I've seen, he's a pretty good quarterback," Missouri free safety Nino Williams said. "I don't know how to rate him, but he's solid."

So for Nash, Smith and Beutjer, it's time to see what Act II of the State Farm Showdown produces.


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