ST. LOUIS — At the end of the first half Saturday, the Missouri Tigers did not have any momentum. And worse yet, they had to kick the ball to Illinois to start the second half.
But on Saturday the Tigers found two momentum changers on their way to victory — tight end Michael Egnew and slot receiver T.J. Moe.
"Our message (at halftime) to the team was we have a lot of playmakers here, we have to start making plays," Pinkel said.
One of the playmakers Pinkel called out was Egnew. With the running game failing in the first half and Illinois protecting against the deep pass, Egnew became the Tigers' way to move the ball. Five yards here, seven yards there, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert found Egnew seven times in the second half, including an eight-yard, game-winning touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.
Toss Moe, who had 13 receptions on Saturday, into the mix, and the Tiger offense purred in the second half. If momentum is based on consistency, Egnew and Moe were the constants for Missouri.
“We weren’t concerned. I mean, obviously you’ve got to come out and play better … the game’s too long to worry about what’s already happened," Moe said. "Last time I checked, the game’s 60 minutes, and we’d only played half of it then.”
Last season the Tigers offense ran through wide receiver Danario Alexander. It took a dismal three-point half for offensive coordinator Dave Yost and Gabbert to figure it out, but in 2010 the Tigers offense will run through Egnew and Moe.
"T.J. Moe's a different player than he was last year, but kids get better," Pinkel said. "Michael Egnew is also a different player than a year ago."
"They were playing like men today. They were catching the ball, and they were playing real physical, they were taking hits but holding onto the ball," wide receiver Jerrell Jackson said. "They were being playmakers like we wanted them to be."
Gabbert found his comfort zone in Egnew and Moe — and when Gabbert is comfortable, he could be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
In the second half, Gabbert connected on 20 of his 28 passes. Fourteen of those second-half completions went to either Egnew or Moe.
"I knew they could do this all along. They knew they could do this all along," Gabbert said. "Everybody out there got a first taste of those guys."