Tag Archives: Juice Williams

Reflections on Mizzou Before We Kickoff

 

While I may be split as to which side will prevail on Saturday, I am certain that Mizzou football will be better than the doubters think.

While I may be split as to which side will prevail on Saturday, I am certain that Mizzou football will be better than the doubters think. (Photo by Chris Lee, STL Today)

            Yep, I will graciously confess that, until about two weeks ago, I was one of the individuals that the previous author eluded to when denouncing that this year’s Missouri football team is so different than last year’s to have any reasonable expectations for high success.  The 2009 team is lacking many of the tangible assets that gave the 2007-2008 squads such fruition.  The team is lacking proven superstars.  No more Chase Daniel, no more Jeremy Maclin, no more Chase Coffman, and “no mo” Willy Mo. 

While star power has diminished on the roster, it has also diminished in the booth.  Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen booked it to Laramie to begin a horseshoe business (and head Wyoming’s football program), while defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus ran to the NFL.  With their departures came two new familiar faces.  Commanding the offensive side of the ball is Dave Yost, the former Missouri quarterbacks coach who looks more like he belongs at afternoon meetings on the beach scoping swells with Laird Hamilton than he does scoping Big 12 defenses.  Dave Steckel, the muscular linebackers coach is taking over as defensive coordinator for Eberflus. 

Would you rather have this guy coaching your surf club or your football team?  I will take football.

Would you rather have this guy coaching your surf club or your football team? I will take football. (Photo by L.G. Patterson, AP)

            With all of these losses from a year ago, it would be silly to put any stock into this year’s Missouri squad, wouldn’t it?  Two weeks ago, my answer would have been yes.  I was commanding the bandwagon of doubters, sipping on ‘haterade’ and just wishing that the ‘ole boys could come back for one last season; one last shot at a Big 12 Championship.  The news of Sheldon Richardson being academically ineligible to attend the university had me listening to Adam Lambert’s gloomy version of ‘Mad World’ for weeks.  I would have never even dreamt of saying that Mizzou could knock off Illinois, who albeit struggled last year, still has a boatload of talent returning this season.

            Finally, after weeks of swimming in a sea of doubt, I woke up from the doldrums.  I attended Mizzou training camp scrimmages and saw the potential that this year’s team has.  Blaine Gabbert looks like he is the real deal.  At 6’5”, 240 lbs. Gabbert has the NFL body that Chase Daniel didn’t have, and the quickness that every coach dreams of having in a signal caller.

Gabbert has the body to run over people, if necessary.

Blaine Gabbert has the body to run over people, if necessary. (Photo by Julia Robinson, Columbia Daily Tribune.)

Gabbert is not alone, however.  Danario Alexander will be his primary target, and rumors have swirled saying that some players think Alexander could be better than Maclin, if healthy.  Well, Danario is healthy now, so let the debate begin. 

Derrick Washington returns.  De’Vion Moore will have an increased role.  Andrew Jones has the potential to become the next great tight end at ‘Tight End U.” 

Sean Weatherspoon is no longer sandwiched between talented defensive stars in Ziggy Hood and William Moore.  But, Spoon does seem hungrier than ever and he put on the weight over the summer to crack enough hard hits to make up for their losses.

I do not want to run through the whole roster and tell you who I think can replace holes from last year’s team.  That would just bore you, and considering that the opener against Illinois is tomorrow night, I’m sure you all are already clued in.

What I’m trying to accomplish with this elegantly scribed column is that Mizzou football is not as destitute as people like Kirk Herbstreit think (in case you didn’t hear, Herbstreit picked Mizzou as his No. 1 team on the move down in 2009.) 

Gary Pinkel has his own eye for talent.

Gary Pinkel has his own eye for talent. (Midwest Sports fans photo)

While it may not protrude as much as in the past couple years, Mizzou’s talent is still there.  You just have to look a little harder and give some of the younger guys a chance.  If anything, I have always thought that it is Mizzou’s system that makes players great.  Gary Pinkel does an excellent job at developing players and recruiting for his system.  So, while there isn’t a plethora of four and five star recruits distributed across the roster, I trust what the coaching staff is doing.

Don’t think too long and hard about predictions for tomorrow’s game with Illinois.  It will drive you crazy.  Trust me.  I have hopped from one side of the fence to another for weeks trying to figure out this one.  I am settling on, “It’s gonna be a good game.” 

If the talent-laden Illinois team shows up in full force, then Mizzou will have some trouble.  Arrelious Benn is as dominant receiver as any in the country, and if Juice Williams can get him the ball without making too many mistakes, then Missouri will need to adjust effectively if they want to succeed.  The Illinois team may look better on paper, but all too often, game are won with intangibles like leadership, strategy, and aggressiveness.  As we saw last season with Illinois, a team with Rose Bowl talent can easily become a 5-7 team if not coached effectively. 

Arrelious Benn should be lockdown target No. 1 for Mizzou's defense on Saturday.

WR Arrelious Benn should be lockdown target No. 1 for Mizzou's defense on Saturday. (Athlon Sports photo)

Mizzou is entering this season extremely hungry, determined to prove that there will not be as big of a drop off in achievement as everyone thinks, if any.  One more thing: After the crew here at the Columns told Sean Weatherspoon about Herbstreit’s comments, he said that he will deliver one hell of a pregame speech on Saturday and keep the ESPN analyst’s comments in mind.  As far as I’m concerned, I would not want to be running out on offense to line up against a defense that was just motivated by Spoon, who jokingly said that “some tears might be involved” in his pregame hollering. 

-PF

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Mizzou expresses confidence at media day

Gary Pinkel addresses the media.

Gary Pinkel addresses the media.

If the 2009 Missouri Tigers were to listen to national media, there is no reason for them to even play Illinois this year.  After all, Mizzou has so many question marks that hardly anyone outside of Columbia even expects them to compete with Juice Williams and the Illini.  But inside the Mizzou Athletic Complex on Monday, the Tigers were expressing no shortage of confidence.

After gashing the Illinois defense for 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns last year, junior running back Derrick Washington thinks Missouri’s critics are in for a big surprise this time around.

“We lost a lot of talent.  I can’t argue with that.  A lot of these young guys are going to step up and prove a lot of people wrong.”

Derrick Washington is hoping for another big day against Illinois (Photo by Joshua Bickel, Columbia Missourian).

Derrick Washington is hoping for another big day against Illinois (Photo by Joshua Bickel, Columbia Missourian).

Members of the Tigers defense are also confident heading into Saturday, despite giving up 42 points and 532 yards of total offense to the Illini a year ago.

“I don’t see any weak links in our defense as far as confidence-wise,” senior defensive end Brian Coulter said.  “Everybody’s ready to go out there.”

Washington was willing to go even further than saying the defense is confident, “Our defense is stacked,” Washington said.

But while the players may be feeling positive heading into Saturday’s game, Head Coach Gary Pinkel is mindful that the Tigers still have their work cut out for them.

“They’re a great team,” Pinkel said when talking about Illinois.  “They have a much more experienced team than we have.  It will be a very difficult task.”

Although Pinkel will concede that Illinois is more experienced, he is downplaying the fact that experience will be a much of a factor for his quarterback, Blaine Gabbert.

“He may have less experience, but no one cares,” Pinkel said.  He reiterated that fact again when asked about that “E” word saying, “Any youth or lack of experience to me is absolutely insignificant.”

Pinkel feels Gabbert is ready, but more importantly Gabbert feels he is ready.

Blaine Gabber (11) feels he is ready to lead this Missouri team. (Photo courtesy of stltoday.com)

Blaine Gabbert (11) feels he is ready to lead this Missouri team. (Photo courtesy of stltoday.com)

“The talent is there (for us) and the playmaking ability is there, Gabbert said.  “It’s a big game. It’s a rivalry game.  Why not start big?”

Speaking of big, one of Gabbert’s biggest receiving targets backed up what Gabbert said.  When asked if he was ready for Saturday, Danario Alexander replied:

“We’re ready to play them.  I’m just looking forward to playing them Saturday.”

So while the critics continue to pick against the Tigers, Missouri is embracing the role of underdog this year.  Among the team’s biggest critics: ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, who in a recent article on espn.com ranked Mizzou as the number one team on the way down in 2009.  But with such low expectations, the Tigers feel they have nowhere to go but up this season.

As Sean Weatherspoon put it, “We control our own destiny.  What everybody is saying now doesn’t mean anything.  If we go out each and every week and put up, people will be talking about the Missouri Tigers again.”

-MG