I just got back from the game and I have to first say that the atmosphere wasn't nearly as electric as it was last season. That's probably because there wasn't as much hype coming into the game, but let's hope Tiger fans can get it loud at Farout this season. Nevertheless, the new look Mizzou Tigers looked like a veteran team in mid-season form in their 37-9 crushing of the Fighting Illini. Let's look at some key stats from the game and also some stats that shine light on improvements the Tigers need to make for next week against Bowling Green.
Will Ebner: 7 tackles
Even though Ebner didn't start, he made his presence known by laying punishing hits on special teams and during limited time on defense. The crowd took notice of Ebner's effort in the 4th quarter and gave him enthusiastic applause when he made a hard tackle on a running back in the middle of the field. If Ebner can be a solid 4th option, the Tigers could have a very physical rotation of linebackers.
Aldon Smith: 3 tackles for loss
Also in limited time, Aldon Smith looked spectacular as an outside pass rusher and even as an inside pass rusher when he moved to DT for 5-7 plays today. The redshirt freshman utilized his speed to negate Juice Williams rushing ability and even made a few plays in the backfield in the running game. Smith is the poster child for the improvement in the defense this season because he showcases speed to go along with smart football decisions.
Carl Gettis: 7 tackles
Usually you like defenders to have high tackle totals, but that isn't really the case for a cornerback unless the player is big in run support. Gettis was picked on all day as he gave his opposing receiver way too much of a cushion throughout the whole game. Gettis is going to have to trust his speed more and challenge receivers at the line if he wants to be an impact player at cornerback like he was two years ago.
Blaine Gabbert: 25/33, 319 yards 9.7 average, 4 total TD's
What a debut for the sophomore quarterback out of St. Louis! All the hype surrounding Gabbert turned into one of the most impressive debuts for a new starting QB considering the circumstances of the game. The 6-5 dual-threat QB showed his wheels early in the game and looked unfazed on the big stage throughout the whole opener. His efficiency (76% completion percentage, no INT's) and smart throws were the most impressive things about today's performance. Mizzou's hope for the next 3 seasons lies squarely on Gabbert's shoulders and today probably gave a lot of fans a lot of hope for that time.
Jared Perry: 4 catches, 93 yards, 1 TD
Now that Jeremy Maclin is a Philadelphia Eagle, the Tigers would like to find a new deep threat for new QB Blaine Gabbert. Although didn't get many looks, Perry made the most of them by averaging over 23 yards per reception. He made his best J-Mac impression when he caught a little in route at the line of scrimmage and ended up running it 46 yards for a touchdown. Danario Alexander was Gabbert's main target, but if Dave Yost wants a big play, he will probably call Perry's number this season.
Derrick Washington: 14 carries, 61 yards
These numbers aren't even close to being comparable to D-Wash's performance in last year's Arch Rivalry Game (19 rushes for 130 yards). The junior RB looked slow hitting the hole today and with the exception of one 32-yard scamper was largely ineffective. It was a huge surprise that Gabbert was the one who carried the load on offense when most suspected that Washington would be the MVP this season. Hopefully Washington will be able to pick it up in the coming weeks and be the solid runner that we all know he is.
3rd Down Efficiency: Mizzou: 9-17, Illinois 6-16
The Tigers defense really struggled on 3rd down a year ago, allowing teams to convert 46% percent of the time. Today was a different story when the Tigers stepped up multiple times on short yardage 3rd down plays to stop Juice Williams and the Illini offense. The front 7 looked rock-solid today on all downs and that could be key if the Tigers want to win the North this year. Also, the Mizzou offense, though young and inexperienced, stepped up on 3rd down today, converting on over 50% of their opportunities.
The Tigers played an awesome game today against a not too shabby Illinois team that is looking to bounce back this season. The Tigers will now return to Columbia prepare for their home opener at Farout Field next Saturday against the Bowling Green Eagles.