3 keys to victory: What Missouri must do to beat Kentucky
Saturday is a measuring stick game for Missouri and Kentucky.
Last year, Mizzou shut down the Kentucky offense and dominated the game defensively en route to a 20-10 victory, but Saturday’s game is going to be a little different.
Both offenses seem to have gotten better since last year’s game and it will be interesting to see which defense will make enough stops to win.
So what are the keys to victory if Mizzou is to tame the Wildcats and even their SEC series at 5 apiece?
1. Stop Kentucky’s passing attack …
How strange does that sound?
Kentucky has reinvented itself offensively after spending the past 5 years running the football. Last year, the Tigers held the Wildcats to 39 yards passing and 1 touchdown, but that was with Terry Wilson running Eddie Gran’s offense.
This year under new OC Liam Coen, UK quarterback Will Levis in his first start put up nearly 400 yards passing and 4 touchdowns against Louisiana Monroe. Josh Ali and Wan’Dale Robinson were unstoppable. In the process, Levis and his receivers racked up numerous “first time since …” stats.
Levis is the kind of quarterback that can give any team fits, especially Mizzou, with its young secondary.
Central Michigan quarterback Jacob Sirmon threw for almost 300 yards and had a touchdown against Mizzou in the opener (though the Tigers did intercept him twice).
But Levis won’t be able to have a big game if the Mizzou defensive line keeps him in check. Led by Blaze Alldredge, Mizzou recorded 9 sacks last week. Nobody is expecting those numbers in an SEC game, but if they can record at least 3, it will relieve some of the burden from a secondary that figures to get tested early.
2. … Especially on first down
One immediate impact Coen has had on Kentucky’s offense deals with play-calling.
Specifically, using play-action to throw on first down.
Last year, Kentucky threw just 94 passes on first down, by far the fewest in the SEC. The Cats completed 57 of those throws for 542 yards and 2 TDs. All three stats ranked last or tied for last in the SEC.
In the season-opener, Kentucky attempted 17 passes on first down. The Cats completed 11 of them for 257 yards and 2 TDs. The yards led the SEC and the TDs shared the lead.
These aren’t simple screens, either. The Cats completed 4 passes on first down that covered at least 25 yards. In one game, they surpassed their total from the 2020 season.
Bottom line: These Wildcats are far less predictable and far more dangerous than the unit the Tigers stopped in 2020.
3. Get Tyler Badie rolling
Badie was the offensive star in Week 1, rushing for 203 yards and a touchdown. In doing so, he became the first Tiger to top 200 yards rushing since Larry Rountree ran for 204 in the 2018 bowl game against Oklahoma State.
Badie’s rushing allowed the Tigers to open up the passing game. Quarterback Connor Bazelak threw for 2 scores, including a 30-yarder to Badie.
Mizzou wants balance and largely achieved it in Week 1.
Keeping Levis and the Kentucky passing game in check is crucial if the Tigers want to win, but Mizzou’s offense can help by sustaining drives. The Tigers are 5-1 under Eli Drinkwitz when they produce a 100-yard rusher. They are 4-0 when that runner tops 125 yards.
It all begins with Badie.