The Missouri Tigers will return to St. Louis to play football for the first time since 2010, making the short trip to take on the bordering Memphis Tigers on Saturday.
The game will kick off the “Mizzou to the Lou” series for the football team, with the soccer and basketball teams having already frequented the city as a part of the ongoing effort to promote athletic exposure in STL.
Mizzou has a unique history in the Gateway to the West. Jaden Lewis put a spotlight on the Tigers’ gridiron appearances in St. Louis from pre-2000, so I’ll look at the more recent results.
The Tigers participated in the “Arch Rivalry Series” from 2002-2010, winning all six of its meetings with the Illinois Fighting Illini over that span. Let’s take a look back at that dominant stretch and the many legendary names that graced The Dome’s field during that time period.
Missouri 33 | Illinois 20
August 31, 2002
MVP: QB Brad Smith (152 passing yards, 138 rushing yards, 1 TD)
Key Moment: Smith’s 24-yard TD run in the fourth quarter
A redshirt freshman by the name of Brad Smith made his Missouri debut in this game, and he started his legacy off with a bang.
In Gary Pinkel’s second season, the Tigers were in desperate need of some positive momentum following his 4-7 inaugural campaign. The Illini were fresh off a 10-2 season in which they won the Big Ten, and thus were favored entering the game.
Smith became the spark for this team, as his dual-threat ability stole the show in a dominant performance from Mizzou. The Tigers ran for 285 yards and held the Illini to just 67 yards on the ground, and a rotating door at quarterback led to plenty of offensive dysfunction for Ron Turner’s bunch.
Unfortunately, Pinkel’s second season only resulted in a 5-7 finish, with this victory being one of the major highlights.
Missouri 22 | Illinois 15
August 30, 2003
MVP: Brad Smith (102 passing yards, 66 rushing yards, 2 TDs)
Key Moment: Darius Outlaw's 6-yard touchdown catch to seal the game with 4:12 remaining
Ironically enough, Illinois out-gained Mizzou 411-223 in this game.
But, the Illini’s inability to score touchdowns as opposed to field goals cost them in this one. They didn’t reach the end zone until the final frame, and conversely, Mizzou was able to effectively capitalize on the few scoring opportunities that it had. The late score by Outlaw and ensuing 2-point conversion by Smith iced the game for the home-state team.
After two disappointing seasons to start his career, Pinkel went 8-5 in 2003, which began with this rivalry win.
Missouri 40 | Illinois 34
September 1, 2007
MVP: Pig Brown (blocked PAT, 100-yard scoop-and-score, another fumble recovery and an interception)
Key Moment: Brown’s game-sealing interception at the one-yard line
When the rivalry series renewed, we witnessed a barn-burner.
Illinois, who went on to upset No. 1 Ohio State and finished 9-4 on the season, mounted a furious second-half comeback in this game after trailing by as much as 24 midway through the third quarter. Illinois QB Juice Williams left the game with a concussion early on, and as a partial result, Illinois blew three scoring opportunities in the first half. On the other side of the ball, Daniel starred in his first game as “the guy” behind center.
The Tigers led 23-6 at the break, but Illinois came out of halftime on a mission. A 79-yard scoring drive from the Illini was followed by Maclin’s breakout drive as a Tiger (43 receiving yards and a touchdown) in response. He then followed that up with a beautiful 66-yard punt return touchdown that seemed to ice the game.
Instead, Illinois caught fire on offense and heated up Daniel in the pocket. Daniel’s fumble after being sacked early in the fourth quarter allowed the Illini to cut the lead to 37-34 early. Mizzou hit a field goal, but Illinois again drove down the field and was threatening late in the game. Pig Brown came to the rescue and became a name Mizzou fans would know forever by intercepting an Eddie McGee pass at the one-yard line.
The win was miraculous in the moment, but it was only the beginning of a magical campaign that would see the Tigers rise all the way to No. 1 in the rankings.
No. 6 Missouri 52 | No. 20 Illinois 42
August 31, 2008
MVP: Chase Coffman (9 catches, 120 yards, 1 TD)
Key Moment: Sean Witherspoon’s pick-six to ice the game.
After bursting onto the scene in this game the previous year, Maclin put on even more of a show in his hometown in ‘08. He returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown and tacked on a 45-yard punt return to boot.
Maclin’s contributions, as well as 322 passing yards and three TDs from Daniel and 130 rushing yards and two scores from Derrick Washington were needed, because Juice Williams was hell-bent on revenge in this one.
He torched the Missouri secondary for 451 passing yards and five touchdowns, although the Tigers did intercept him twice. Still, after Mizzou took control of the game with a 24-point second quarter, Williams and the Illini reeled off 32 in the second half and kept the pressure on the Tigers, but a balanced attack for Mizzou steadied the ship in the second half, and the Tigers were able to salt away a ranked win to open the season.
Missouri 37 | Illinois 9
Sept. 5, 2009
MVP: Blaine Gabbert (319 passing yards, 39 rushing yards, 4 TDs)
Key Moment: Gabbert’s 4-yard TD pass to Jerrell Jackson on the opening drive of the second half.
It was a night-and-day difference for Illinois in ‘09. Williams struggled to get anything going, throwing for just 179 yards and an interception, and the Illini offense as a whole was plain stumped by the Tiger defense.
In his first game as the full-time starter, Gabbert dampened any concerns over a drop-off at QB after Daniel left. He looked incredibly comfortable within the offense and linked up with senior Danario Alexander on 10 occasions for 132 yards. This one was never in question, and it provided a springboard for Gabbert’s illustrious college career.
Missouri 23 | Illinois 13
Sept. 4, 2010
MVP: Jasper Simmons (1 INT, 3 punts return, 20.0 yards per return)
Key Moment: Gabbert’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Michael Agnew as the Tigers took the lead for the first time in the third quarter.
In the last edition of this rivalry that was played on a football field, Mizzou was forced to play from behind for the first time.
Illinois led 13-3 at halftime despite struggling to find any success in the passing game. 188 combined rushing yards from RB Mikel Leshoure and QB Nathan Scheelhaase paced the Illini in this one, but Gabbert and the Tiger offense found a rhythm in the second half and never looked back.
A second-half shutout from the defense was a sign of things to come, as the unit only allowed one team (Nebraska) to score more than 30 points during the 2010 campaign. Here’s some film on their dominant performance: