As we are now just mere hours away from the kickoff of Mizzou's 2009 season, I thought it would be smart to point out three key matchups in the Tigers' Week 1 clash with the Illinois Fighting Illini. Let's start out with the most obvious one:
Juice Williams vs. Mizzou D
If Mizzou gives up 461 yards of total offense to Juice this year, as they did in 2008, the Tigers simply don't stand a chance. Mizzou was able to compensate for giving up a quarter mile of offense to one player because of the experienced offense they had on their side of the field. This year, though, that is definitely not the case. Mizzou will have to contain Juice and force the Illini to move to the ground game. Illinois' run game is its weak link, so shutting down Juice and the passing game will most likely render the entire offense useless. They have to beware of Juice's ability to run, though, as it could be game changing.
Blaine Gabbert vs. Illinois secondary
All eyes will be on Gabbert in his first collegiate start, and he can thank his lucky stars that Vontae Davis decided to go pro. The Illini's secondary looks very ordinary without Davis locking down the number one spot. Tavon Wilson looks to be the part of a shutdown corner, but, according to Jack Lyman of InsideIllini.com, he isn't there yet. Gabbert has some intriguing weapons to throw to, but no one with the pedigree of Jeremy Maclin. Wes Kemp, Danario Alexander, and Jared Perry will all look to establish themselves as legitimate weapons for Gabbert to rely on this season, and it starts with game one in St. Louis. I have higher hopes than most for Gabbert this season, as people seem to forget that he was a 5-star recruit just 2 years ago. This could be a breakout party for Gabbert, but it could also be a stumbling block in his development. I tend to believe that the former is more of a possibility, but that's why they play the game.
Mizzou DEs vs. Illinois OTs
Jacquies Smith, Aldon Smith, and Brian Coulter form what Tigers fans hope is a formidable trio of pass rushers at the defensive end position. All three have impressed throughout spring and summer practices, and now they will take it to the field against the Illini. To combat the athletic ends of Mizzou, Illinois will send out Jeff Allen and Corey Lewis, a pair of bookend 2nd year starters. This matchup could go either way, but if Mizzou can generate a solid pass rush, then it will make containing Juice Williams that much easier.
If at least 2 of these 3 matchups go the Tigers' way, then they should leave St. Louis with their first victory of the 2009 season. If not, then the Tigers will a tough time winning Arch Rivalry and most likely head back to Columbia winless headed into the Week 2 matchup with Bowling Green.