Mizzou not satisfied with victory
ST. LOUIS -- How quickly can two teams' standards change upon getting a taste of the rich life?
In the case of No. 6 Missouri and No. 20 Illinois, apparently overnight.
A year ago, these two arch-rivals staged a riveting, back-and-forth shootout that ended in a 40-34 Tigers victory and signaled the beginning of breakout seasons that culminated in New Year's bowl berths for both teams.
A year later, the Tigers and Illini returned to the Edward Jones Dome for more of the same fireworks and momentum swings. Once again, Missouri's high-powered offense raced to a huge second-half lead only to watch the pesky Illini nearly claw their way back. Once again, the Tigers ultimately prevailed -- this time with less suspense. An Illinois touchdown on the game's final play made it 52-42.
So why, then, was the victorious Tigers' locker room littered with disappointed players afterward?
"It just comes from the expectation level around here," said Missouri QB Chase Daniel. "We feel we should have and could have played better than we did."
To the naked eye, it sure seemed like the Tigers played just as well, if not better, than they did during last year's historic 12-2 season. Even with a slew of new faces, Daniel and the offense were their usual, prolific selves. Electrifying all-purpose threat Jeremy Maclin delivered one of his now-customary, game-changing kick returns. And the defense, as was often its custom a year ago, made enough big plays to compensate for the ones it gave up.
They did all this, mind you, against an opponent that played in a BCS bowl a year ago.
Perhaps that's the source of the disappointment. It's no secret the Tigers were a better team than the rival Illini last season, but it was Illinois, not Missouri, that received a coveted Rose Bowl invite. This year's Tigers are aiming for nothing less than that elusive BCS bid -- and they know Saturday's performance, regardless of the score, did not meet that lofty standard.
"We did win, and we did make a lot of big plays, but we made a lot of mistakes," said defensive end Stryker Sulak. "We let them score a lot of points. That's something we can't allow."
In many ways, the game followed the same formula as most of Missouri's best wins a year ago.
Running Missouri's spread offense with all the precision of a third-year starter, Daniel, a 2007 Heisman finalist, methodically picked apart the Illini to the tune of 314 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-43 throws. His lone, monumental miscue was a second-quarter interception he threw right into the hands of Illinois DE Derek Walker, who returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. The score gave the Illini their first and last lead of the game, 13-10, which lasted until the ensuing kickoff -- Maclin returned it 99 yards for a touchdown.
The Tigers would eventually build their lead to 31-13 by halftime and 45-20 late in the third quarter thanks in large part to their newest weapon, sophomore tailback Derrick Washington. In his first career start, the heir apparent to departed star Tony Temple ran 19 times for 130 yards, including first-half touchdowns of seven and 40 yards. Conversely, Missouri's swarming defensive front held the Illini to seven net rushing yards in the first half and 81 on the night.