Next in line

I started watching today’s Missouri/Illinois game with some trepidation. A bad defense from 2008 had six new starters. New guys would have to step up and replace Chase Coffman and Jeremy Maclin. And Chase Daniel, the “field general” for the past three years, was waiting to see if he’d make the Redskins practice squad.

Blaine Gabbert was the key. Daniel had a bit of an internship in his freshman year, getting a series in the second quarter of almost every game that Brad Smith started. Daniel led the team to an overtime victory. Gabbert played a little his freshman year rather than redshirt. If the experience helped, we wouldn’t know.

I guess it helped. I knew that Gabbert was bigger than Daniel. I thought he might have a stronger arm. I didn’t know that he was a faster runner. A few early runs helped push away the first-start jitters. A long TD pass to Wes Kemp officially broke the ice.

Illinois looked as prepared as Oregon did on Thursday night. Missouri’s offense stagnated a few times but a 16-3 lead at the half was good to me. Thanks to previous second-half near collapses I wasn’t confident, not even when the lead extended to more than two touchdowns. Juice Williams just didn’t show up. Arrelious Benn got injured early and the announcers used his absence as a convenient crutch for their demise.

Let’s talk about the new stars. Gabbert had 313 passing yards and three touchdowns. He also had 54 yards rushing and a score. Hmm. . . maybe I left my college fantasy league one year early. The rushing game overall wasn’t great, but it was good enough. Danario Alexander had nine catches, reminding everyone that before a wrist injury in 2007 he started over Jeremy Maclin. Alexander’s had some bad injury luck, with a broken wrist, an ACL tear and a second tear of the replacement ligament. He looks like the go-to receiver. Veteran Jared Perry was solid and sophomore Wes Kemp had his first touchdown.

It’s not the victory that’s huge, it’s the way it happened. The defense was more bendy than solid, but they got turnovers when necessary. Illinois scored 76 points the last two years, so this should be considered a quasi-shutout. I think the better Big 12 offenses won’t struggle as much to move the ball.

Let’s not forget Grant Ressel. The walk-on kicker made three field goals in three attempts. Jeff who?

I’m just surprised that there’s so much college-worthy talent in Missouri. Most of the key players in the game were from Missouri. The only way for the Tigers to stay a top 25 team is to lock the borders and get some “sleeper” prospects from Texas and California.

Let’s not forget that Blaine Gabbert initially committed to Nebraska. I’d rather have him than Nebraska’s empty season-opening slot in the top 25.

I’ll conclude with a quick recap of the Titans’ final preseason game. Vince looked better in each game. I’d be petrified if he started, but I wouldn’t completely slump my shoulders in defeat. Is that progress? Dominique Edison looks like a long-term prospect at WR. It’s about time the Titans developed a wideout, regardless of draft position.

I’m surprised that Chris Henry made the final roster over Quinton Ganther. He has NFL talent, but the instincts are lacking. Keeping five wideouts means that they must be considering signing Matt Jones. If Washington misses the opener, does that mean Britt starts? I’d put Jared Cook in the slot.

To finalize my z34 roster, I traded waiver-wire LB Joe Mays for Jon Kitna. I got Kitna to back up Tony Romo. Mays is the starting MLB for the Eagles while Stewart Bradley recovers from his knee injury. He may or may not be a three-down guy. It’s not the kind of deal that wins championships, that’s for sure.

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