ST. LOUIS (AP) -Talk of Missouri 's defense gaining equal footing with the No. 6 Tigers' high-flying offense seems to have been a bit premature.
Missouri reverted to shootout mode in a 52-42 opening victory over No. 20 Illinois on Saturday night. All the big numbers on offense were simply insurance for the leaks that made a game seemingly on the verge of being a blowout almost as exciting as last year's opener against the Fighting Illini.
New starting tailback Derrick Washington had two touchdowns and 130 yards rushing in his first career start. Jeremy Maclin had his second career kickoff return for touchdown and totaled 234 yards before spraining his left ankle in the fourth quarter, an injury that doesn't appear serious. He was expected to have an MRI Sunday or Monday.
Chase Daniel emerged from an early funk and threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns.
Missouri racked up 549 yards in total offense. Just enough, as it turned out, for its fourth straight win over Illinois and the school's third win in a string of four consecutive games against Top 25 competition. Illinois totaled 532 yards behind career days from quarterback Juice Williams and wide receiver Will Judson.
The Tigers have 10 starters back on a defense that finished strong last season, holding Arkansas and Heisman Trophy finalist Darren McFadden to seven points in the Cotton Bowl. But an Illinois team coming off a nine-win season capped by a Rose Bowl appearance exposed huge holes in the secondary while ringing up 31 points in the second half and slicing deeply into a 25-point deficit.
``You've got to give them credit,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ``They're not an average team.''
Williams passed for 451 yards and five touchdowns, gaudy numbers that for Daniel wouldn't be a huge surprise. But Williams entered his junior year with only two 200-yard passing games, one each in 2006 and '07.
``He played a great game,'' linebacker Brock Christopher said. ``But a lot of stuff with us was blown coverages. That's something we have to fix quick. Hopefully, it takes us just this one game.''
Missouri was vulnerable to the deep pattern, with Judson scoring on a 65-yard play and adding a 53-yarder and finishing with five catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns. The left side of the secondary was burned twice, with seniors Castine Bridges and Tremane Vaughns both helplessly trailing Judson on plays.
Actually, Missouri has some time to iron things out. Heavy underdogs fill the rest of the pre-Big 12 schedule, with Southeast Missouri State next up on Saturday followed by Nevada and Buffalo, and all are at home.
Still, nobody's satisfied. Pinkel massaged players' wounded egos immediately after the game while promising prompt attention to all ills beginning on Sunday. It was the type of game that should provide perfect teaching points.
``I've been doing this 30 years, so you enjoy winning,'' Pinkel said. ``Am I kind of glad they're disappointed? Yeah. We learn from them, we evaluate, and if we won by a landslide we'd have done the same thing.''
Optimism for a stingy, more refined, defense abounded in the preseason. Daniel recounted several instances in practice where he was confused by disguised coverages.
In the opener, it was the Missouri defense's turn to be befuddled. The Tigers were rescued by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who had an interception and later stripped a wide receiver and went 35 yards for the clinching score.
Illinois narrowed the gap to 10 points early in the fourth quarter, giving Missouri a scare similar to last year's opener when the Tigers led by 24 points and won 40-34.
``The fourth quarter, we made a lot of mistakes,'' Missouri end Stryker Sulak said. ``Guys made some big plays, but there's still a lot of stuff to work on.''

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