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Mizzou went 4-0 in 2007 non-conference play, but we still had no idea what was coming

The Tigers 4-0 heading into September, but defensive questions persisted.

Tony Temple
Sarah Becking

Mizzou entered its bye week at the end of September 2007 in pretty good shape. The Tigers were 4-0, and with the rest of the country slowly but surely beginning to lose its mind, they quickly went from unranked to 17th in the AP poll.

What we didn’t know just yet was how good the Tigers could be. They only showed so much in non-conference play. The offense was reliant on spurts of incredible play, and while those bursts were unbelievable, brief droughts had almost cost them against both Illinois and Ole Miss. Meanwhile, the only thing the defense was particularly good at was forcing red zone turnovers. That’s not particularly sustainable.

In the final two games of non-conference play, Mizzou continued its shootout ways, allowing 41 combined points to Western Michigan and Illinois State. WMU’s Mark Bonds rushed 14 times for 82 yards (5.9 per carry), while ISU’s Geno Blow rushed 21 times for 116. Both the Broncos and Redbirds hit 240-plus yards, though it took a combined 80 passes to get there. The numbers were also a little better than they seemed — a lot of the points and yards came with Mizzou up multiple possessions late in the game.

Still, it was like Gary Pinkel and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus were undergoing an experiment to figure out exactly what Mizzou could and couldn’t do, and once the real games started again, they unleashed a honed, mostly awesome attack. In mid-September, though, they were still collecting data points.

The WMU game was never even slightly in doubt. Mizzou took the ball first and drove 72 yards in six plays. Jeremy Maclin broke off a 30-yard run, then caught a 24-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 7-0. Jeff Wolfert missed a 43-yard field goal on Mizzou’s second drive, but following a Brock Christopher interception near midfield, Chase Daniel raced off left tackle for 39 yards, and Tony Temple scored from a yard out.

The second quarter began with WMU driving, but a first-and-10 from the Mizzou 13 turned into a fourth-and-28 from the 31 thanks to a Lorenzo Williams sack and a couple of penalties. A punt by quarterback Tim Hiller gave Mizzou the ball at the 14, and it took the Tigers just seven plays to score again: a jet sweep to Maclin, enjoying his best day yet, put the Tigers up 21-0. WMU again drove, this time for a field goal, but you don’t beat Missouri with 3-pointers. Daniel connected with Tommy Saunders for a 25-yard touchdown, then Wolfert hit a 47-yarder as the first half expired to give the Tigers a 31-3 lead at the break.

WMU’s only third-quarter points came from its defense: C.J. Wilson picked off a Daniel pass near midfield and returned it for a touchdown. But later in the third quarter, a nice Maclin punt return set up a short Temple touchdown, and as WMU’s offense got revved up (the Broncos gained 133 yards in the fourth quarter), Temple and Daniel grounded out rushing yards and another touchdown. Backup QB Chase Patton scored on an 18-yard run with 93 seconds left to give Mizzou a 52-24 win.

Against both Ole Miss and WMU, Mizzou had raced to an early lead then given up lots of yards in bend-don’t-break mode. Against Illinois State, it was the opposite. ISU drove 66 yards for a first-quarter field goal, then 84 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, and despite solid, steady offense from Mizzou — Will Franklin took a screen pass 57 yards on the game’s first play, and Temple and Maclin each scored later in the half — the Tigers’ lead was only 24-10 at halftime.

ISU then drove to the Mizzou 22 to start the second half, but the Tigers’ defense was still as timely as ever. Christopher sacked Luke Drone on first down, then Stryker Sulak sacked him on second to drive the Redbirds out of field goal range. Wolfert missed a field goal, but Temple, now rolling, scored to make it 31-10 after three quarters, and Maclin made it 38-10 with a 64-yard punt return early in the fourth. A garbage time touchdown made the final margin three touchdowns.

Statistical standouts against WMU:

  • Total yards: Mizzou 619 (7.1 per play), WMU 372 (4.6)
  • Maclin had a fantastic day, catching seven passes for 96 yards and a score, rushing six times for 52 yards and a score, and throwing in a 23-yard punt return and a 29-yard kick return.
  • Daniel was a little bit sloppy, throwing two interceptions and taking two sacks, but he more than made up for that, completing 27 of 46 passes for 328 yards and rushing three times (not including sacks) for 75 yards.
  • Temple rushed 16 times for 97 yards and two scores.
  • Martin Rucker continued his torrid early pace, catching 11 passes for 115 yards.
  • Williams had two tackles for loss and a sack, while Sulak had two TFLs, a sack, a forced fumble, and two pass breakups. Christopher, meanwhile, was all over the place, pitching in 7.5 tackles, a TFL, an interception, and two breakups. In my postgame writeup at Mizzou Sanity, I wrote that “Sean Weatherspoon flies around the field and hits really hard, but Brock Christopher is the defense’s rock.”

Statistical standouts against iSU:

  • Total yards: Mizzou 581 (7.7), ISU 397 (5.1)
  • Daniel threw two more interceptions but still completed 21 of 34 passes for 294 yards and three scores. He only rushed once for seven yards this time.
  • Temple was the big star, rushing 18 times for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also caught two passes for 10 yards and a second score. Backup running backs Earl Goldsmith, Marcus Woods, Jimmy Jackson, and Derrick Washington combined for 15 carries and 110 yards.
  • Maclin was held mostly in check, catching five passes for 53 yards and rushing once for 22. (Of course, he also had a 64-yard PR and a 38-yard KR.) The receiving star in this one was parity: Rucker caught four passes, Coffman three, and Franklin, Jared Perry, Saunders, and Temple each caught two.
Jeremy Maclin
Sarah Becking