Much like Arkansas did in the Cotton Bowl last season, Illinois tried to defend Missouri by focusing on MU’s passing game. The results in this game were also similar. Missouri ran all over the Illini, rushing for a total of 226 yards, mixing a ground game attack of sophomore tailback Derrick Washington and senior tailback Jimmy Jackson.
There were many questions entering this season on how the ground game would perform since former MU tailback and back-to-back 1,000 yard-rusher Tony Temple would no longer be in the backfield with senior quarterback Chase Daniel. If Saturday night’s game was any indication, the Missouri ground game will be a force to be reckoned with this season.
“The Tony Temple era is over,” Washington said. “He’s a great back, but it’s time to put that in the past. It’s me and Jimmy now, and we have to show everyone what we can do.”
Last season, Temple received most of the carries for Missouri. This season, expect to see a two-back combination between Washington and Jackson.
“It’s real nice that I can come out and get a rest and (Jackson) can come in and we can do everything that we need to do with our running game,” Washington said. “With our running backs working like this, it’s going to be tough to stop our offense.”
Washington ran for 126 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry, while Jackson ran for 46 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per carry.
“He (Washington) had a great game,” Daniel said. “He caught passes out of the backfield which is something that we want to get going with our tailbacks this year so he definitely opened up some of the passing game in what was really his first start. I didn’t count one time that the first guy that was tackling him put him down.”
On Missouri’s first drive of the game, Washington capped off a 10-play, 67-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
“It was real good to get that touchdown,” Washington said. “With it being my first collegiate start, it was especially nice.
With a four-point lead in the second quarter, Washington took a handoff from Daniel, and after breaking multiple tackles, scampered 40 yards for the touchdown. That play was a major impact on a 24-point Missouri second quarter.
“I had a nice little cutback, and then it was just off to the races,” Washington said of his 40-yard touchdown.
Washington and Jackson’s statement did not go unnoticed. The game set an Edward Jones Dome college football game attendance record with 66,441 attending the game. ESPN also broadcast the game on national television, so many more watched from home.
“Washington’s a very explosive guy,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s got great potential. And then we have Jackson who is the old man of the group. (Washington) will get better and better each week which is exciting.”
Despite the great rushing game, MU nearly let it go to waste, hanging on in the fourth quarter to defeat Illinois by a score of 52-42. Similar to last season, it appeared that Illinois would come back in this game until junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon picked off Illinois junior quarterback Juice Williams for a 35-yard touchdown with 3:18 remaining.