Rebuilt Missouri proves a point in opener

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Missouri receiver Jared Perry runs for a 46-yard touchdown after making a reception during the third quarter Saturday in St. Louis. Missouri won 37-9. (JEFF ROBERSON ~ Associated Press)

The Tigers entered Saturday's rout against Illinois with a chip on their shoulder

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel already senses a prove-something attitude from his team.

"I think so, but I also think that's OK," Pinkel said. "There are some other national powers that they lose a lot of players, get a lot of players drafted and people assume they're just going to reload. But you have to earn that. ... [Our players] certainly did have a chip."

Even though they played in the last two Big 12 championship games and were briefly the nation's No. 1 team during that span, there are some underwhelming expectations for the Tigers this season after quarterback Chase Daniel finished his senior season and receiver-kick returner Jeremy Maclin left early for the NFL.

No preseason Top 25 ranking, and nobody picking Missouri to win the Big 12 North again. The Tigers were even underdogs for their season opener against Illinois, which had lost four in a row in the rivalry.

The Tigers responded with a somewhat surprising 37-9 season-opening victory Saturday. Daniel's successor, Blaine Gabbert, threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score.

During the Big 12 coaches conference call Monday, Pinkel described the game as "our opportunity to show that we've got a decent football team, and I'm proud of the way they played."

That likely was Missouri's biggest challenge before getting into Big 12 play. The Tigers play the next two Saturdays at home against Bowling Green and Furman before wrapping up non-conference play Sept. 25 at Nevada.

"We're not good enough to take anybody lightly," Pinkel insisted. "We're just focused on getting better. Through the leadership of our team, I think we will be OK."

Coachspeak?

Maybe, but Pinkel remembers what happened when Missouri played Bowling Green his first two seasons. The Falcons won both, including 51-28 the last meeting seven years ago.

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