At 7 pm CT on Missouri’s SEC Network Takeover day this Saturday, Mizzou fans will get to rewatch the Tigers’ first win of 2007. Make sure to do your breathing exercises before then.
It’s staggering to think about how close 2007 came to, well, not being 2007 for Missouri. The 11-1 start, the top-five finish, the trip to No. 1, the whole “25 minutes from the national title game” thing ... it all could have vanished on the season’s opening Saturday. Sure, the Tigers would have been good that year regardless. Probably would have won the Big 12 North. But it wouldn’t have been the same.
Luckily, Missouri had Pig Brown, and Illinois did not.
I talk a lot about how the games with the multi-layered plots are the ones that we remember most. I just wrote about how the 2013 win over Georgia sticks with us even more than it otherwise would have because of that. But that trip to Athens doesn’t hold a candle to the number of plot lines in this one.
I. Uh oh
The game starts about as poorly as possible for the Tigers. Tony Temple is dancing and moving horizontally in his first couple of carries (which was a significant issue at times in 2005 and 2006), and Mizzou punts on each of its first two possessions. Neither go well. Adam Crossett shanks a 21-yarder with a chance to pin Illinois deep, and Vontae Davis blocks his second punt, then recovers it and takes it into the end zone. Illinois takes a 6-0 lead with 8:38 remaining.
Pig Brown, however, blocks the PAT.
II. Old reliables
Mizzou seems to relax a bit after the block. Temple carries three times for a loss of two on the following drive, but Chase Daniel finds Martin Rucker for 16 yards and Will Franklin for 32. And on fourth-and-goal from the 1, he and Chase Coffman connect for the first of his 33 touchdown passes on the year. The teams trade punts for the rest of the quarter, and Mizzou takes a one-point lead into the second period.
III. No Juice
After a fourth Mizzou punt in five possessions, Illinois finally starts to move the ball a bit. Juice Williams completes three passes to advance to the Mizzou 40, but at the end of a short run to the 36, he is rocked by Hardy Ricks on a potential helmet-to-helmet hit and will leave the game with a concussion. Backup Eddie McGee comes in, Rashard Mendenhall is stuffed for a loss on third-and-1, and the Tigers’ lead holds.
After another Mizzou three-and-out, however, Crossett’s nightmare day continues. He pulls off the rarest of the rare — a zero-yard punt in a dome — and Illinois takes over at the Mizzou 23. McGee hits Jacob Willis on a third-down slant route, and on second-and-goal from the 3, he keeps the ball and lunges for the end zone.
He gets there without the ball, however. Sean Weatherspoon knocked it out of his hands, and Brown, with his second big play of the day, collects it and runs 100 yards in the other direction for a touchdown.
IV. Bad math
Gary Pinkel then proceeds to briefly lose his mind. For some reason, Missouri goes for a two-point conversion up 13-6. No card in the world tells you to go for two up seven points in the second quarter.
It fails. Surely that won’t come back to haunt the Tigers, right?
V. More Pig
Now down 13-6, Illinois responds with a lovely drive. Daniel Dufrene goes up the middle for 17 yards, and after just six plays, the Illini have a third-and-5 at the Mizzou 37. McGee goes up the middle for five yards but is stripped again, this time by Ziggy Hood.
I probably don’t have to tell you who recovers the ball: Pig Brown.
VI. The surge
Now with three blown scoring opportunities, the Illini begin to sag. On a third-and-7 from near midfield, Daniel and Tommy Saunders connect for 28 yards, and on a third-and-4 from the 20, it’s Daniel to Coffman for 11. From the 2, Daniel throws his second short touchdown, this time to Franklin.
On the ensuing kickoff, Andrew Gachkar then separates Chris Duvalt from the football. Connell Davis recovers at the UI 17 with 13 seconds left in the half, and Mizzou finishes the half with three charity points, a 27-yard field goal by Jeff Wolfert.
Despite dilly-dallying for most of the half, Mizzou takes a commanding 23-6 lead into halftime.
VII. HELLO, JEREMY MACLIN
Illinois begins the second half with a composed, 79-yard touchdown drive, finished by a powerful 25-yard run by Mendenhall. Mizzou answers, though. Daniel hooks up with Rucker for 12 yards and Danario Alexander for another 12, and then a redshirt freshman from St. Louis takes over in his home town. Daniel completes a sideline pass to Jeremy Maclin for 18 yards, then immediately finds him again, this time for a 25-yard score.
Illinois is forced to punt after a huge stuff by Weatherspoon and a third-down sack by Stryker Sulak. Kyle Yelton’s 39-yarder lands in Maclin’s hands. With stunning smoothness, No. 9 takes it 66 yards for another touchdown. His first two scores came within four minutes of each other, and with 21 minutes remaining in the game, Mizzou leads, 37-13.
VIII. Hold onto your butts
When you’re up 24 points late in the third quarter, you’re almost certainly going to relax. It’s human nature. It’s also detrimental. After a big sack by Hood, McGee responds by finding Arrelious Benn for 25 yards on second-and-16. Dufrene rips off a 30-yarder, and from the 16, McGee takes it in himself.
Mizzou’s next drive ends prematurely; Alexander takes a reverse from the Mizzou 46 but fumbles it. Antonio Steele recovers, and on Illinois’ next snap, McGee finds Kyle Hudson for a 41-yard score. Just four minutes after falling behind by 24, Illinois is down just 10, and Mizzou is completely out of sync again.
Mizzou goes three-and-out, and while the Tiger defense forces a punt, Daniel is sacked for a huge loss early in the fourth quarter and fumbles. Derek Walker recovers, and two plays later, Mendenhall scores on a four-yard run. Just like that, it’s 37-34.
And then Mizzou goes three-and-out again.
IX. Can’t watch
You could make the case that the following Illinois series ended up being the most important gut-check moment the Missouri defense would face all season. At least, it was in hindsight, knowing what would follow. Illinois gains just three yards in two plays, and on third-and-7, Bart Coslet hurries McGee into a rushed throw. It falls incomplete. Bullet dodged.
Desperately in need of stability, Daniel leans on Saunders. They connect for 14 yards on second-and-10, then 10 more on first down from the UI 26. The drive stalls, but Wolfert hits a 32-yard field goal to stretch Mizzou’s lead to six with 8:32 left.
It should have been seven, mind you, if not for hilariously awful second-quarter math.
As quickly as Mizzou fans can realize how quickly that failed two-pointer is screwing their team, Mendenhall takes a short pass and rumbles 42 yards into Mizzou territory. Oh god.
X. Pig and Willy Mo to the rescue
Illinois goes for the kill. McGee fires 20 yards downfield ... but William Moore picks him off. Missouri eats four minutes off of the clock with a 47-yard drive, but once more an awful run game limits the Tigers. On first down from the UI 25, Temple loses five yards. Two incompletions later, Wolfert trots onto the field to ice the game with a 49-yard field goal ... and misses, wide left. Illinois will get one more shot.
Mizzou quickly forces a fourth-and-10 from the Illinois 44, but McGee and Been again connect, this time for 25 yards to the Mizzou 31. McGee finds Joe Morgan for eight yards, and a pass interference penalty gives the Illini the ball at the Mizzou 22 with 58 seconds remaining. Oh god, oh god, oh god.
Pig Brown to the rescue. McGee lobs the ball toward a double-covered Benn near the end zone, but Brown picks it off at the 1. There’s no space for victory formation, but three Daniel plunges run out the clock. In one of the wildest, best, worst games Missouri has played in quite a while, the Tigers hold on, 40-34.
The last two entries of my Mizzou Sanity live blog:
6:22 - Daniel plunges forward to the 2, and Illinois uses its last timeout. Meanwhile, Eddie McGee is crying on the sideline. I feel for him. He was responsible for everything good Illinois did today...and everything bad. Lucky for us, Pig Brown committed to Mizzou over New Mexico, Texas Tech, Marshall, Nevada, and Boise State on 11/27/2005, I say.
6:23 - Ballgame. Think I'll go pass out now. I knew that rivalry games make weird things happen, and that this could be a game, but...ugh. Survive and advance. Or something. I'm done for now. I'm just glad that idiotic (asinine, batty, crazy, daffy, daft, ding-a-ling, dull, dumb, dumdum, fatuous, foolhardy, foolish, gorked, half-witted, hare-brained, harebrained, imbecile, imbecilic, inane, insane, jackass, jerk off, lunatic, moronic, senseless, silly, squirrelly, thick-witted, unintelligent) 2-point attempt didn't cost us the game.
I promise the next piece in this series will be less stressful.