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Tiger Notebook: Second Half Keys Missouri Win Against Illinois

Missouri won its 18th consecutive non-conference game by defeating the Illinois Fighting Illini, 23-13, at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on Saturday.

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The Arch Rivalry is temporarily dead but Missouri's 2010 season is just now coming to life, and here are the stories that accompany this nascent football season after one game.

The Note In Which I Address The "Halftime Adjustments!!!" Meme:

A season ago, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was vilified for what many in the online community perceived to be a failure to adjust at halftime of games. The meme came about during the middle of conference play, in which Missouri struggled to put many points in the third and fourth quarters. At no point did fans seem to account for A) the incredibly small sample size, B) Missouri's four games won after trailing in the second half, or C) the fact that the narrative completely disappeared once Missouri put up 21 points in the second half at Kansas State.

After the Illinois win, the fan base apparently collectively voted on "Pinkel learned to make halftime adjustments!" as the official storyline of the season opener. Here's the fun part: Missouri didn't really make many adjustments on offense at all. Pinkel essentially told his players that they were more talented than Illinois, and that all they needed to do was settle down and make the plays of which they were capable. Missouri basketball guard Kim English once said coaches get too much of the credit and too much of the blame, and Pinkel is no exception. Barring a complete schematic meltdown, the simple formula for football is this: Talent + Execution = Success. Coaching means nothing without execution, and in the second half, Missouri executed. Feel free to call it coaching, but coaches look a whole lot better when players make plays. 

The Note In Which I Humbly Rescind My Doubts:

All offseason, local and national media placed high expectations on sophomore receiver T.J. Moe, a converted high school quarterback whose skill set, size and melanin content invite comparisons to Wes Welker. And for the most part, the T.J. Moe bandwagon grew. A very select few (**pointing at myself) remained skeptical about Moe's hands, as he dropped a wide open potential touchdown against Illinois a year ago and dropped several balls in the 2010 Spring Game. After one game, most of those fears are largely assuaged. Moe caught seemingly everything Blaine Gabbert put near him, withstanding a ton of hits and eventually having to receive stitches on the sideline after he got annihilated (and had his helmet fly off) on a screen pass. He finished the day with 13 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown in which he worked open on "controlled chaos" scramble by Gabbert.

Moe was one of the big question marks for Missouri's season, as offseason talk frequently centered around the "Who can help replace Danario Alexander?" conundrum. The sample size right now is only n=1, but it was a heck of a start for the St. Louis-area native.

The Note In Which I Discuss a Grown Man's Proclivity For Dancing:

Gabbert may owe his offensive line a steak dinner, not because his blocking was incredible (it was generally solid, though), but because his feet put him in several positions to make his line look bad. Last season, on occasion, Gabbert would get flustered after going through his first two reads, and even in the midst of solid pocket protection, he would scramble to "buy time" and effectively run into pressure rather than away from it. That sophomoric tendency made a couple of appearances in the first start of his junior year, and those happy feet can bring so much sadness if the tendency can't be contained. The offensive line reportedly got on Gabbert's case a little bit, making sure he knew he had the pocket as long as he didn't bail on it early. Gabbert has an NFL-ready rocket arm, but his pocket presence and progression reads hold the key to the next step in his development.

The Note In Which Mizzou Accounts for 37.5 Percent of Last Year's Interceptions In One Game:

"Much maligned" might be the most positive way to describe the Missouri pass defense. "Publicly flogged" might be the more apt description. But the unit known for taking a beating on the field and in the press showed up in a big way on Saturday, picking off redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase three times. For the sake of comparison, Missouri had eight interceptions in the entire 2009 season.

Once again, the conundrum of coaching vs. execution comes into play. Missouri's corners played a little bit tighter coverage than usual as the coaches gambled on their backs' ability to stay with receivers. But hidden in the fantastic day for the Missouri defensive backs was the help they got from the defensive front, especially when Missouri went with its four-end package. You generally can't have one (pass coverage) without the other (pass rush), and the Missouri defensive backs may get that much better thanks to a gamechanger like Aldon Smith, a solid contributor like Jacquies Smith and a rapidly improving threat like Brad Madison.

The Note In Which I Bid Farewell To The Arch Rivalry:

Unlike Florida fans, Missouri will be sad to see Ron Zook go. The Tigers pulled off the clean sweep of the four-year set and pushed their winning streak against the Illini to six. The "rivalry" now goes on pause for several years as the teams reevaluate their commitment to the series. Farewell, Arch Rivalry. It's been real. Call sometime to catch up.

For full Mizzou coverage, make sure to visit Rock M Nation.