COLUMBIA — Seemingly endless arrays of offensive weapons were on display for No. 25 Missouri against Illinois State on Saturday. No skill position player went unused in the 38-17 victory over the Redbirds, who were the victims of the Tigers’ most balanced offensive display of the young season.
The Redbirds (2-2) came into Memorial Stadium ranked No. 15 in the Football Championship Subdivision (formally Division 1-AA) trying to knock the Tigers (4-0) off in their final nonconference matchup. But the game’s first offensive play, a 57-yard touchdown pass from Chase Daniel to Will Franklin, quickly silenced the Redbirds’ upset hopes.
Daniel took advantage of a Redbird blitz and connected with Franklin on a screen pass off the right side of the field that ended with Franklin scoring untouched.
The opening drive took all of 17 seconds off the clock, but the offense also showed an ability to grind out long drives. Following a defensive stop on fourth and goal, the Tigers picked their way down field to the tune of 97 yards on 11 plays with contributions coming from six different Tiger skill players.
“We started with the ball on our three-yard line twice and took it the length of the field.” Daniel said. “We like those kinds of long drives but we also like to score quick.”
The scoring drive was one of three that stretched over 10 plays and a bit of a far cry from a team that is open about its desire to score quickly and often. But players were happy about the change of pace from their habitually efficient attack. They were even happier to see some of their unsung teammates get some time to shine.
“We want as many people as we can involved in the passing and running game and they played well,” Daniel said. “Our depth has definitely stepped up from years past.”
Daniel, who threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, hit 11 different Tiger receivers, including three of the five running backs that were used.
Some offensive spark also came from the special teams, as Jeremy Maclin took a punt back for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“He gets us great field position,” Daniel said. “He had an awesome game today and he’ll continue to have awesome games.”
As heralded as the offense has been, the defense has been just as heavily criticized. The Tigers gave up a season-low 397 yards, giving up 10 points. The defense fed off the offensive performance and was able to make stops when they were most needed. They were also grateful from the reprieve they got from the long Tiger scoring drives.
Defensive end Stryker Sulak said the defense appreciated the rest. “A lot of people on defense run around a lot so its good to have that time on the sideline.”
The defense appeared to be even keeled throughout the game as well. In addition to the season-low point and yard total, the personnel finally provided some crutch to the offense. The defensive unit was pushed back into its own territory on countless occasions but only had 17 points to show for it.
“We threw an interception down there and they came away with no points,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “We’ve had some real good red zone stops.”
The new-found semblance of balance will be of the utmost importance for the Tigers as they go into the bye week.
“We haven’t even come close to putting our complete game together with offense defense and special teams,” Daniel said.