Rapid Reaction: Kentucky punishes Missouri on the road, likely locks up a bowl spot
After reeling off three wins in their past four SEC games, Kentucky capitalized on its momentum to deliver a road shellacking against a stumbling Missouri team, 35-21 Saturday in Columbia.
By winning their third consecutive SEC game, Kentucky (5-3, 4-2 SEC) made itself a contender in the SEC East, and all but assured itself a bowl appearance.
Road wins have been hard to come by for the Wildcats, but a road beating like Saturday was almost unprecedented.
What it means
Again, pending this afternoon’s Florida/Georgia matchup, Kentucky is no worse than second in the SEC East. After an 0-2 start and the loss of QB Drew Barker, no self respective bookmaker would have even given odds on that occurrence. But Mark Stoops’ squad, unlike the 2014 and 2015 teams that started strong and fell late, has risen much closer to their potential as the season has progressed.
For Missouri, this loss all but assured that the Tigers will miss a bowl for the second straight season. Barry Odom’s team started the year as a pass-heavy offensive juggernaut, but at this point, most phases of the Mizzou squad are stumbling badly. The Tigers will use the next four games to try to build some forward momentum and sense of identity heading into the 2017 season.
What I liked
The Kentucky offense was clicking from the beginning. When QB Stephen Johnson can pass for 200 yards, and running backs Boom Williams and Benny Snell each crack 180 rushing yards … well, it’s safe to say that Kentucky was pleased with their offensive execution. For the second straight week, the UK offense surpassed 500 total yards of offense. Saturday it finished with 377 yards rushing.
The Missouri ground game was relatively solid. Of course, all season long, the Tigers’ offense has posted generally reasonable totals on the ground all season, but on a day when not much went right, the Tiger rushing attack still ground out around four and a half yards per carry. Freshman RB Damarea Crockett was solid with 55 yards on 13 carries.
What I didn’t like
Kentucky had some special teams struggles, with a missed field goal, a relatively poor game from punter Grant McKinniss, and nothing big in the return game. It didn’t matter today, but the Wildcats will need to do better next week against Georgia or the following week at Tennessee. Kentucky also has to cut out needless turnovers, of which there were a couple. Again, the margin of error down the line will be slimmer.
The Tigers’ defense was just abused by the Kentucky offensive line. The loss of Michael Scherer was felt early and often. Kentucky rushed for more than 7 yards per carry and controlled the game by controlling the Missouri defensive front. The next month will be very long if the Mizzou front doesn’t step it up.
Key play: Midway through the first quarter, UK back Stanley “Boom” Williams exploded up the middle and ran past the Tiger secondary for a 60-yard touchdown. It was a preview of the game to come. The Wildcats never trailed, and Williams ripped off big runs almost at will.
Who’s the man: Williams is closing in on a 1,000 yard season, and he did nothing to hurt his chances by racking up 182 yards on 19 carries against the Tigers on Saturday. Freshman Benny Snell (38 carries, 192 yards) is the up-the-middle grinder, but Williams is the shifty speedster who makes opposing fans hold their breath on every handoff. It’s crowded at the top of the list of great SEC running backs, but Williams made his case on Saturday.
Kentucky hosts Georgia next week with a chance to secure a winning record in the SEC for the first time since 1977. The Wildcats have 4 SEC wins, just the fifth time since 1977 that has happened. With FCS opponent Austin Peay looming in three weeks, UK all but clinched a bowl game with its victory Saturday.
A 2-6 Missouri team goes to South Carolina next weekend, and the Tigers hope to regain some momentum. Mizzou is still theoretically alive in the bowl picture, but a game at Tennessee on Nov. 19 looks likely to end that issue, if Carolina and Vanderbilt fail to do so before.