Kentucky football: 5 predictions for Kentucky/Missouri game
Kentucky had an easy time in Week 1 against UL-Monroe, with over 400 yards passing and an easy 45-10 victory. But the Wildcats’ second test should be a significantly bigger challenge. Missouri struggled at times in a 34-24 win over Central Michigan, but they’re probably as good a barometer as any for UK’s current status. During Mark Stoops’ tenure at UK, the Wildcats are 5-3 against Mizzou, but perhaps more telling, in those 8 games, the total score has been UK 177, Missouri 177. What will UK’s matchup with the Tigers look like? Here are 5 predictions for the game.
1. More running
Kentucky’s trio of running backs (Chris Rodriguez, Kavosiey Smoke, Michael Drennen) rushed 27 times for 157 yards against UL-Monroe. Look for Rodriguez in particular to see even more action Saturday. Steve Wilks’s defense struggled with the run against Central Michigan (allowing 174 yards on 39 carries, which is actually distorted by 9 sacks on the CMU quarterback — the true rushing figures would be more like 220 yards on 30 carries). Stoops is, despite the Week 1 Air Raid, a defensive coach. Don’t think this means Kentucky won’t pass, but they’ll look to establish the run and play from ahead. Look for 20-25 carries for Rodriguez and more like a 60/40 run-pass ratio for UK, with nearly 200 yards on the ground.
2. Different looks at Wan’Dale
Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson was sharp in Week 1, but don’t be surprised to see him in even more looks for Week 2. Given the issues with the run noted above, Wilks’ defense will probably be charging hard to the football — leaving them vulnerable to jet sweep and end-around plays with Robinson on the ground. Kentucky also didn’t utilize a Wildcat package at all in Week 1 — and if the Wildcats do go to one, Robinson could fill the Lynn Bowden 2.0 role. If Kentucky does indeed throw less, Robinson will still get his touches.
3. Passing for 200-250
Will Levis’ 367 passing yards in Week 1 probably won’t be replicated in Week 2. That said, his 18-for-26 passing line sounds plausible. Look for more short and intermediate passes, more of a focus on tight ends Brendan Bates and Justin Rigg. As Mizzou picked up 9 sacks in Week 1, Kentucky will probably either call fewer passes on 1st down or look for more safe passes to avoid the risk of falling into long-yardage situations. Look for 200-250 passing yards for Levis and another solid game, even if not as explosive as last week.
4. Ox action
One of the pleasant surprises for UK in Week 1 was the play of reserve defensive lineman Octavious Oxendine. Oxendine had 5 tackles, including 1 for a loss. While Missouri may be prepared for Kentucky’s pass rush off the edges, keep an eye on Oxendine both pressuring Bazelak and plugging some holes against Missouri’s outstanding back Tyler Badie. If Kentucky’s linebackers continue to play as well as they did in the opening game, it’ll create more opportunities for some of the quicker defensive linemen on the UK roster — and Oxendine could be the first one of those to benefit.
5. Late action
One of the most promising developments of Week 1 was that under Liam Coen, Kentucky’s offense actually had components of adjusting in mid-game. While 3 yards and a cloud of dust has been good to the Wildcats in recent seasons, having the ability to scheme guys like Josh Ali and Robinson open could be the difference in this game.
Both teams will likely try to establish the run early. Bazelak is the kind of heads-up quarterback who can give UK trouble unless he’s surprised with some unusual blitzes.
The expectation here is that he’s careful early and this is a dead heat at halftime. Late in the third quarter, UK’s defense will come up with a crucial turnover, and then Coen will dial up a long pass play that will make the difference in a 31-20 victory over Mizzou.