I doubt this one becomes as long as the typical BTBS usually is, simply because I wrote a BTBS on Illinois about three months ago, and it's not like any games have happened since then. But I still have some things to talk about.
For one thing, using '+' ratings, we can actually somewhat project some points. How, you ask? Simple. The EqPts+ number simply compares a team's performance with the averages of their opponents. So watch what we can do...
- Mizzou Rushing Offense EqPts+: 178.77
- Illinois Rushing Defense EqPts/Gm: 9.06
- Projection #1: 16.20
- Illinois Rushing Defense EqPts+: 165.11
- Mizzou Rushing Offense EqPts/Gm: 16.21
- Projection #2: 9.82
Avg Projected Mizzou Rushing Output: 13.01
Adjusted for 2008 personnel changes: 12.00 (I don't fear the loss of Tony Temple, but UI's D-line will be as good or better than last year's)
- Mizzou Passing Offense EqPts+: 149.55
- Illinois Passing Defense EqPts/Gm: 9.88
- Projection #1: 14.78
- Illinois Passing Defense EqPts+: 87.04
- Mizzou Passing Offense EqPts/Gm: 18.40
- Projection #2: 21.14
Avg Projected Mizzou Passing Output: 17.96
Adjusted for 2008 personnel changes: 18.00
- Illinois Rushing Offense EqPts+: 171.78
- Mizzou Rushing Defense EqPts/Gm: 8.29
- Projection #1: 14.24
- Mizzou Rushing Defense EqPts+: 151.97
- Illinois Rushing Offense EqPts/Gm: 17.78
- Projection #2: 11.70
Projected Illinois Rushing Output: 12.97
Adjusted for 2008 personnel changes: 11.00 (Dufrene is decent, but he's no Mendenhall...and 6 of Mizzou's front 7 return)
- Illinois Passing Offense EqPts+: 72.33
- Mizzou Passing Defense EqPts/Gm: 12.14
- Projection #1: 8.78
- Mizzou Passing Defense EqPts+: 141.07
- Illinois Passing Offense EqPts/Gm: 7.37
- Projection #2: 5.22
Projected Illinois Passing Output: 7.00
Adjusted for 2008 personnel changes: 9.00 (Mizzou's secondary returns intact, but Benn is healthy)
Projected EqPts Score: Missouri 30.0, Illinois 20.0
Neat, huh? So that gives us a jumping-off point for the game. Turnovers and special teams can certainly make up an 11-point difference, plus if the offensive line is the last thing on a team to gel, that helps Illinois, as Mizzou's O-line has further to go to gel.
But really, any extra advantage Illinois derives from their D-line might be negated by the Special Teams advantage that Mizzou seems to have. Steady kicker Jason Reda is gone, and while Michael Cklamovski has a strong enough leg to have handled kickoffs last year, he's unproven (as are the other three kickers currently sharing the top spot on the depth chart...yikes). And we all know what Mizzou is expecting from Jeff Wolfert this year. Add to that the fact that Jeremy Maclin > Arrelious Benn on returns (so far), and Illinois punter Anthony Santella is far from a world-beater (though he still may be better than Jake Harry), and you've got a clearly-defined advantage for Mizzou.
Key Players for Illinois
RB Daniel Dufrene
One potential advantage the Illinois offense has is on 1st Downs. Mizzou gave up a 43.9% 1st Down success rate, good for only #74 in the country. Meanwhile, the Illinois offense was #28 with 46.3%. A lot of that was likely due to Rashard Mendenhall, but if Dufrene (and the other Illinois RBs--Troy Pollard, Jason Ford, Mikel LeShoure) can rack up some decent 1st down carries, Illinois should be able to move the ball pretty well. And if Mizzou continues its '07 trend of shutting down the opponent's #1 weapon (i.e. Arrelious Benn), there might be some opportunity to move the ball on the ground.
If he/they can't move the ball on 1st downs...well, good luck to Illinois. They were #95 via the air in Passing Downs S&P. They have to keep Juice Williams out of those uncomfortable situations if they plan to score many points. Juice may be a better decision-maker in his junior campaign, and he's certainly got a cannon for an arm, but it's not all that accurate. Mizzou will try to force him to use that cannon, and success for Dufrene puts UI in the driver's seat offensively.
RG Jon Asamoah
A 3rd-team All-Big 10 selection, Asamoah gets to attempt to do something no Mizzou RG has been able to do in practice yet (at least not until they moved Kurtis Gregory back to RG)--slow down Ziggy Hood. Every practice report we've heard this summer has mentioned how dominant Hood has been, and we now get to find out how much of that was Hood and how much of that was Dain Wise and Austin Wuebbels. If Hood is blowing up Asamoah and his counterparts on the Illinois O-line, there is no way that Illinois moves the ball well enough to win. Simply no way.
DE's Will Davis, Doug Pilcher, Derek Walker and Jerry Brown
The blueprint for shutting Mizzou down is simple, really. Get pressure on Chase Daniel without blitzing, drop 7 into coverage, confuse and hit Daniel. Repeat. UI's DTs are still solid with the loss of Sirod Williams, but the pressure has to come from the DE's, really. The DEs are the ones that can both make Daniel paranoid and occasionally drop into coverage a la Auston English. And if they don't get in his face, the "drop 7 into coverage" thing will result in death by a thousand small cuts...Daniel never forces the issue (unless he absolutely has to) and is perfectly content to dink and dunk all the way down the field. Davis is Illinois' best DE, but the pressure has to come from more than one guy.
WR Arrelious Benn
I thought about putting freshman kicker Derek Dimke here, but...well, if Illinois is settling for FGs, they've already lost. And I was going to put some DB on here, but...without great DEs, it doesn't matter if you have a secondary of All-Americans--Chase Daniel's still going to move the ball. So instead, I went with a predictable choice. Benn is healthy, he's going to return every kick (he only returned 10 kickoffs and 0 punts last year), and we're going to find out if he's a talent that can transcend the "blueprint" for beating Mizzou by simply making too many plays to be ignored.
Key Players for Mizzou
RB Derrick Washington
Duh. The other reason the Illinois line lit up Chase Daniel quite a bit was because Mizzou's running game was nonexistent. That wasn't all Tony Temple's fault--he was having to make moves 5 yards in the backfield--but if Washington runs well, and Mizzou can move the ball on the ground in Q1, then Mizzou's in business. Illinois' Defensive S&P+ numbers were solid in Q1 (#29 in the country) but faded in Q2 and Q3 (#48, #90) before rebounding in Q4 (#19). Success early for Mizzou could lead to much more success later on.
And yes, Mizzou's best offensive quarter (Q3) was Illinois' worst defensive quarter. Keep that in mind if the game is tight early.
WRs Jared Perry, Tommy Saunders, Jerrell Jackson, Wes Kemp
This one's easy. Illinois is going to be doing everything it possibly can to take the ball out of Jeremy Maclin's hands. If Derrick Washington is running well, and another receiver has a big game in Danario Alexander's absence, then Maclin is the world's best decoy. I'd have mentioned Chase Coffman here as well, but...he'll come up big. I'm not worried about him.
OLs Elvis Fisher, Ryan Madison, Tim Barnes, Kurtis Gregory, Colin Brown
In other words, the starting O-line. This one's even easier. Protect Chase Daniel, win the game.
S Justin Garrett
Since Van Alexander is hurt, I was going to say Luke Lambert, but I trust Lambert as much as I do Alexander. And I was going to say William Moore simply because more is the single main reason why Mizzou was so good at shutting down teams' #1 weapons in '07. But instead I'm going with Justin Garrett. When Pig Brown went down, Garrett was the main replacement, and he proved himself to be a hard hitter and solid run-supporter...but in the "pass defense" role of being a safety, he was lacking. But I'll say this: he was better than Pig Brown was in '06. If Garrett makes a similar junior-to-senior improvement, Mizzou's defense simply doesn't have a weakness*. Plus, if Garrett's good enough to play every down, that solidifies Mizzou's status as one of the hardest-hitting teams in the league. With Moore at nickel back, Mizzou could potentially have Sean Weatherspoon, Moore, Garrett, and Hardy Ricks on the field at the same time. And every team they play will develop a bad case of Michael Crabtree-esque alligator arms in the second half.
By "doesn't have a weakness", I don't mean it's a perfect defense. I just mean that it's at least solid everywhere. I'm not aiming for hyperbole here.
Obviously you can expect more numbers here as the season progresses, but there just wasn't that much new to report here. We've been thinking about the Illinois game for three months now. We know what they have to offer. We know what we have to offer. Wildcards are abound (last year we didn't know what we had in Jeremy Maclin or, for that matter, Pig Brown), and no amount of number analysis is going to uncover those unknowns. Let's face it...it's just freaking game time already.
Mizzou 34, Illinois 20.