5 things Kentucky needs to do to beat Mizzou for the 5th consecutive time
After an ugly 21-0 loss at Georgia, Kentucky’s season is at something of a crossroads Saturday against Missouri. If the Wildcats can upset the Tigers (who they have defeated for the past 4 seasons), they would likely be favored in each of their final 4 games, and could still enjoy an 8-4 season. On the other hand, a loss places the Wildcats in a difficult position down the season’s stretch run.
So what would Kentucky’s recipe for victory look like?
1. Find some semblance of a passing game
While Kentucky’s best hope is probably wide receiver Lynn Bowden playing quarterback, the Wildcats still have to manufacture some vague hint of a passing game, even if by screens, touch passes that are basically glorified end-arounds and safe underneath throws. Last week, in the monsoon at Georgia, Kentucky didn’t complete a pass until late in the 4th quarter and then had 17 passing yards. That won’t work.
The week before against Arkansas, UK had 88 yards passing on 12 attempts. Something more in that line is pivotal. Considering that Missouri is 1st in the SEC in pass defense and pass defense efficiency, not only can’t Kentucky take another 0-for-3 quarters in passing, the Wildcats have to be careful not to beat themselves with costly mistakes in the passing game.
2. Create some turnovers
The Wildcats’ defense did a great job for 2 1/2 quarters against Georgia, but it couldn’t manage a shutout forever. UGA put up 3 late touchdowns in part because Kentucky was worn out, and couldn’t get off the field. Kentucky’s defense hasn’t forced a turnover since Sept. 28 — so grabbing 1 or 2 Saturday is pivotal to rest the defense, shorten the field for the offense and maybe even create some points via scoop and score or pick-6.
Incidentally, UK is last in the SEC in turnover margin, and Mizzou is 3rd-best.
3. Smoke ’em out
Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke injured his shoulder on his only carry against Georgia. This is a pivotal problem, because Smoke is the speedy back of UK’s offense, and with a minimal passing game, Kentucky could use smoke on the edge to make some big plays. In UK’s 3 wins, Smoke averages 72 yards per game on the ground. In the 4 losses, he has averaged just 30 yards.
4. Win with special teams
Kentucky’s kicking game has been bad this season, with freshman Chance Poore losing his starting job to walk-on Matt Ruffolo. Ruffolo has looked more consistent, but Kentucky can’t afford any errors in the kicking game. Meanwhile, Mizzou has missed 6 field goals and 3 extra points. Factor in Kentucky’s solid work in the return game, and the Wildcats need to press any advantage in special teams into making a difference on the scoreboard.
5. Stay close
This should flow pretty easily from the Georgia game plan, which was plainly built less on attacking the Bulldogs than in not getting blown off the field by them.
Missouri is a talented and SEC-worthy team, one that could easily be 7-0 instead of 5-2. But at the risk of oversimplifying things, they’re 0-2 in competitive games this season, losing to Wyoming and Vanderbilt by 1 score each.
Meanwhile, their victories have come by 31, 50, 20, 32 and 11 points. It’s worth noting that the 11-point win was a 3-score game in the 4th quarter before some deceptive late scoring. If Kentucky can stay close, their 4-year run of success and their ground-and-pound style of play could put them in a good place. But they do have to stay close.