August 28, 2008

Three Tiger keys against Illinois

Each week during the season will break down the upcoming Tiger game from every possible angle. Each Thursday, we will identify three keys to victory for Mizzou on the upcoming Saturday. Today, we take a look at the major factors heading into the season opener against Illinois:

Make Juice Williams win the game with his arm

Williams can run. Everybody knows that. Can he pass? The 2007 game actually turned when Williams went out and Eddie McGee began to fling the ball all over the field. The key for Missouri defensively will be keeping Williams in the pocket. When Mizzou had Brad Smith, teams would rarely blitz and would actually bring less pressure. This is a possible approach for Mizzou. If you keep the defensive linemen and linebackers at home more often and you don't bite on the ball fakes from Williams, it should reduce his effectiveness as a runner. Certainly easier said than done. But what Williams must prove is that he can beat a top-notch team on his passing ability. If he can, tip your cap. If not, you walk out of St. Louis with a win.

Protect Chase Daniel

This one might as well be a key to the game every week, but in no game will it be more important than the opener. Illinois has perhaps the best defensive front Missouri will see this season. With a redshirt freshman lining up opposite Will Davis, the Tigers have to give Daniel time to throw. The quarterback has proven again and again that if given time, he can dissect just about any defense. But if Illinois can get to Daniel with its front four and keep the linebackers and defensive backs back in coverage, the Tiger offense faces a whole new challenge. Is Elvis Fisher ready to go at left tackle? For the Tigers to win, he has to be.

Make Jeremy Maclin the focus

Duh. Maclin is perhaps the most dangerous offensive player in college football. He will draw increased attention this season. But the Tigers need to make sure not to shy away from forcing the ball to Maclin just because he is drawing extra defenders. Mizzou must still put the ball in his hands at least ten times on Saturday, and probably more. Given enough chances, Maclin is likely to break one. If Vontae Davis is good enough to take Maclin out of the game one-on-one, things get tough for the Tigers. But given enough single coverage, Maclin will hurt Illinois. The Tigers have to make sure that Illinois has to commit two players to Maclin. If that happens, other players should have a chance to get open. Guys like Jared Perry, Tommy Saunders ans Andrew Jones have to show the ability to get past single coverage because they are much more likely to see it on any given play than Maclin. If Maclin can make a play or two early and force Illinois to pay him even more attention than they already will, Daniel should have plenty of other options to put some points on the board. No matter how they do it, Missouri has to force feed the ball to its biggest offensive weapon.

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