Win doesn't satisfy MU football team

Monday, September 1, 2008 | 1:33 a.m. CDT; updated 7:25 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak sacks Illinois quarterback Juice Williams during the second half of the Tigers' victory Saturday night in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Six months of hype gave way to three weeks of practices in the August heat. For another week after that, the Missouri football team focused on a four-hour confrontation under the lights against Illinois on Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome. Although the Tigers won, coach Gary Pinkel said  his players didn’t seem like a team sitting pretty at 1-0 — just one of four teams in the country with a win over a ranked team on  its resume.
“I was in my locker room, and my players were disappointed, and that upsets me a little bit,” said Pinkel, whose teams have now won 13 of their past 15 games. “When you win, and you beat a  top-20 enjoy it.”
The disappointment might have come from giving up a touchdown on the game’s final play. It might have come from letting Illinois rack up 42 points. It might have come from the night’s biggest star, Tigers’  receiver Jeremy Maclin, leaving the dome with his left ankle wrapped in a cast, though Pinkel said X-rays were negative. Whatever the culprit, Pinkel’s assessment didn’t apply to everyone.
“I ain’t disappointed at all,” said junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who finished the night with two interceptions, the last of which he returned for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 17 points with just over three minutes to play. “I’m happy we got a win. I’m ready to get back to CoMo, chill with my boy J-Mac, we’re gonna heal him up and get him right, and just enjoy this win. Tomorrow we’ll focus on the mistakes.”
For Missouri’s defense, there should be plenty to focus on. The Illini receivers routinely beat Missouri’s defensive backs, and after struggling in the first quarter, Illinois quarterback Juice Williams upstaged his Heisman-candidate counterpart in Chase Daniel. Williams finished with a career-high 451 yards through the air, along with five touchdowns. Before Saturday, Williams’ previous best was just  245 yards.
The Tigers’ Castine Bridges, who allowed at least two long passes, says he knows MU will see better quarterbacks over the course of the season.
“We’re better than what we did,” Bridges said. “Next week is a whole new game, we’ll be ready next week. It starts in meetings, and it starts in practices, though.”
After opening up a 45-20 lead with under three minutes to play in the third quarter, the fourth quarter seemed reminiscent of a year ago, when the Tigers also nearly squandered a 24-point lead before hanging on for the 40-34 win.
“Last year we just had so many mental errors,” Weatherspoon said. “I think this year we cut them down, we’ve just got to play harder.”
Lucky for the defensive backfield, Missouri’s front seven showed up in a big way Saturday. Weatherspoon’s heroics overshadowed a career day for senior defensive end Stryker Sulak. Weatherspoon’s first interception came on the Tigers’ 26-yard line on a third-and-long. Setting up the obvious passing down, however, was a Sulak sack, arguably his biggest of the night. He also added a forced fumble and blocked the extra point after the Illini’s first touchdown.
Weatherspoon debuted a hand gesture Saturday night on the national stage that looks as if the linebacker is wringing out a hand towel, or as some thought Saturday, squeezing the juice from a fruit. The gesture was never more animated than after Weatherspoon’s game-sealing touchdown, when the junior directed it at the secondary.
“When I do my hands like that, it just means we’ve got the game on lock, we’ve got everything tightened up,” Weatherspoon said, deflecting notions that the gesture was directed at the Illinois quarterback.
As the Tigers turn their focus to Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, their only in-state opponent of 2008, Weatherspoon reiterated that the happiness he felt inside the dome Saturday wouldn’t last much longer.
“We gave up a lot of yardage tonight,” Weatherspoon said. “We’re definitely a better football team than what we just played. We’ll fix that this week and show you guys real soon.”
INJURY REPORT: In his postgame press conference, Pinkel said that senior reserve linebacker Steve Redmond likely tore his MCL.
After Saturday’s game, All-American safety William Moore was hobbling with a boot, and was taken out to the team bus on a cart.
Although X-rays were negative, Pinkel said Maclin would receive an MRI on his injured left ankle by today to make sure there was no injury.
More information on all three will be available after today’s media day.

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