Shortly before halftime, Kentucky led 21-7 and running back Chris Rodriguez was approaching the goal-line for a likely back-breaking score. Instead, Rodriguez fumbled, and Kentucky had to work deep into the 4th quarter to preserve a 35-28 win over Missouri in the SEC opener for both teams.

Despite his second-quarter fumble and another fumble on the goal line late, which Kentucky recovered for the final margin, Rodriguez was Kentucky’s offensive star, amassing over 200 rushing yards with his usual hard-charging style. UK quarterback Will Levis had a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown, but Kentucky’s offensive game plan returned much closer to the mode of the last few seasons, leaning heavily on the run and only occasionally featuring the pass. Wan’Dale Robinson still managed 100 receiving yards for the game. He had a huge catch late in the 4th quarter to extend a clock-eating drive and then added a savvy run-and-slide to keep the clock moving.

Connor Bazelak was superb for Missouri in defeat, throwing 4 touchdowns and approaching 300 yards passing. Running back Tyler Badie was a threat on the ground and in the air, easily eclipsing 50 yards on each front. Missouri made the second half interesting, while it didn’t seem early that it would be the case.

Kentucky took the opening kickoff and on the second play, Robinson broke free on a 64-yard run. Three plays later, Levis hit Rodriguez for a 5-yard scoring pass. The extra point gave UK a 7-0 edge. After a Missouri punt, UK had an 80 yard scoring drive culminating in a 2-yard touchdown run by Rodriguez. Kentucky’s advantage stretched to 14-0 with 5:13 to play in the first quarter. Missouri answered with a 75-yard scoring march, ending in a 6-yard connection from Bazelak to tight end Daniel Parker. The extra point trimmed UK’s lead to 14-7 with 27 seconds to play in the first quarter.

Kentucky extended its edge to 21-7 on a Levis 3-yard run with 9:26 left in the half. Kentucky was driving deep in Missouri territory near halftime when Rodriguez lost a fumble at the 2 yard line. Instead of being staked to a 28-7 lead, Kentucky watched Bazelak lead a scoring drive to end the half, hitting a 17 yard strike to Keke Chism with four seconds in the half, cutting the Wildcat advantage to 21-14.

While Missouri had the ball out of the half, Kentucky flipped the advantage when Ole Miss transfer Jacquez Jones intercepted a Bazelak pass. Three plays later, Rodriguez reached the end zone from 3 yards out. Missouri regained momentum on the following drive, which culminated in a 6-yard shovel pass from Bazelak to Parker. That cut Kentucky’s edge to 28-21 with 9:15 to play in the third quarter.

Missouri drew even with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 17-yard scoring pass from Bazelak to Badie with 13:11 to go in the game. Kentucky responded with a 5-play drive, although not without drama. Rodriguez bulled into the end zone from 8 yards out to retake the lead — or did he? It appeared that he fumbled the ball just before crossing the goal line, but as Kentucky covered the loose ball, no replay was undertaken. Kentucky took a tenuous 35-28 lead with 11:28 to play.

They held on from there.

Kentucky faces FCS foe Chattanooga next week, while Missouri hosts Southeast Missouri State.  Each team will go on the road the following week, with Kentucky playing at South Carolina while Missouri goes to Boston College.