Cats Can’t Afford A Let Down
A week ago Mark Stoops’ Wildcats went to Tennessee and came away with a decisive 34-7 victory. The win was Kentucky’s first in Knoxville since 1984 and only the fourth overall in the last 36 years. While the Big Blue Nation has been reveling in the win and enjoying the Tennessee fans meltdown, to use coach speak “it’s time to put that behind them.” With the all-SEC schedule in 2020 there are no easy games. That holds true as they head to Columbia for a 4:00 pm kickoff on the SEC Network. Can they keep the momentum going? Let’s find out with our Kentucky at Missouri preview.
Defense Leads The Way
During the first two games of 2020 the highly touted Kentucky secondary was torched first by Bo Nix and then Matt Corral in two losses. However the last two weeks the defense has stepped up in a big way. First it was holding a Mike Leach coached team without an offensive point in a 24-2 victory. In that game Kentucky picked off six passes and totally dominated.
Last week in Knoxville it was more of the same as the Cats picked off passes on three consecutive possessions, returning two of them for a score. Over the last two weeks Brad White’s group has forced more turnovers than points allowed.
Kentucky’s Defense these past 2 games against Mississippi State & #18 Tennessee:
🔷 7 Points Allowed
🔷 9 Interceptions
🔷 2 Forced Fumbles
🔷 1 TD Allowed (7 Points)
🔷 3 TDs SCORED (21 Points)
— Grant Peters (@GP_Tre_Ball) October 19, 2020
If the defense plays like it has then all the offense needs to do is play turnover free football. In addition they need to get the running game going behind Christopher Rodriguez and Terry Wilson who lead the team in rushing yards with 257 and 253 respectively. From there that opens up the passing game and leading receiver Josh Ali.
As we continue our Kentucky at Missouri preview let’s now look at the Tigers.
Scouting The Tigers
Missouri comes into the game off a bye week caused when Vanderbilt didn’t have enough players to play due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Eli Drinkwitz’s club currently sits at 1-2 on the season with losses to Alabama and Tennessee. However two weeks ago they surprised LSU 45-41 at home in a game featuring 1,089 yards of total offense. Quarterback Connor Bazelak threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns. In addition his quarterback rating was a ridiculous 224. Behind Bazelak is running back Larry Roundtree III, who seems like he’s been at Missouri ever since they joined the SEC in 2012. When they throw the ball Jalen Knox and his 14 receptions is the favorite target.
On the other side of the ball defense has been a calling card of the Missouri program. However so far in 2020 they, like many SEC teams, have struggled. They are giving up 38 points a game which ranks 68th out of the 77 teams who have played so far this season. Linebacker Nick Bolton leads the way with 36 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Continuing on with our Kentucky at Missouri preview let’s now look at the history between the schools and some history that can be made on Saturday.
The Last Time They Met
A season ago the Cats beat the Tigers 29-7 in the rain at Kroger Field. Lynn Bowden ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns as UK jumped out to a 22-0 halftime lead and Missouri got no closer. The Wildcat defense held Kelly Bryant to 130 yards passing and only 289 yards of total offense. In addition they held a group who had been averaging 38 points per contest to only seven.
Two years ago in Columbia featured one of the best games in recent Kentucky football history. Trailing 14-3 heading into the fourth quarter Bowden returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown cutting the lead to five after a failed two point conversion. Following a defensive stop the Cats got the ball back with one chance for victory. On the game last play Missouri was called for pass interference on Ahmad Wagner in the end zone. As a result Kentucky got one more play and Wilson hit C.J. Conrad for the score and a 15-14 win.
Since the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012 the series has been one of streaks. Missouri won the first three games by an average of 21 points. However Kentucky has now won the last five and look to tie a record on Saturday. A sixth straight win over the Tigers would match the longest winning streak ever for Kentucky against an SEC opponent. From 1976-1981 the Cats won six consecutive games against Vanderbilt. Overall the Cats lead the series 7-3 as Kentucky also won games in 1965 and 1968.
Moving Up The Record Books
Not only is Saturday a huge game for Kentucky but for Stoops as well. A win over Missouri moves him into second place on the all-time wins list at Kentucky. With a 46-46 mark he’s currently tied with Fran Curci 14 games behind Bear Bryant’s total of 60. In addition getting over that .500 mark would be huge as Bryant and Blanton Collier are the only two coaches in the modern era of Kentucky football with a winning record. Remember Stoops was 12-26 two games into his fourth season in Lexington and has gone 32-20 since.
Who Wins On Saturday?
As mentioned at the beginning Kentucky is on a roll after a shaky start. A win over Missouri puts them over .500 on the year and enhances their bowl chances. Currently Last Word has them playing Michigan in the Outback Bowl. This game was originally scheduled for October 31st however due to COVID issues within the league the office moved this game to Saturday. Furthermore the contest against Georgia originally set for this weekend was moved to next week.
Sandwiched in between games against Tennessee and Georgia True Blue Fans have to worry about a let down and this being a trap game. However if Kentucky’s defense plays like it has the last two weeks they should make it three wins in a row.
Kentucky 31 Missouri 21
Thanks for checking out our Kentucky at Missouri preview here at Last Word On College Football. We’ll be back with a recap after the game and get you ready for the match up with Georgia on Halloween.