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Early Kentucky Football Opponent Preview: Missouri Tigers

We're doing early previews for all 12 of UK's 2015 opponents. Next, we preview what Kentucky can expect out of the Missouri Tigers in Game 4.

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Missouri Tigers

The Kentucky Wildcats will face the Missouri Tigers at home in week 4.  The game is on September 26 with a time and TV station to be determined.

What To Know

  • Date: September 26
  • Time: TBD
  • TV: TBD
  • Site: Commonwealth Stadium
  • Team Site: Missouri Tigers Football
  • Twitter Account: @MizzouFootball
  • Head Coach: Gary Pinkel
  • Offensive Starters Returning: 6
  • Defensive Starters Returning: 6

2014 Tigers season recap

After winning the SEC Eastern Division in 2013 many pundits thought the Tigers would take a step back in 2014.  The Tigers seemed to be headed in that direction after a 27 to 31 loss to Indiana at home.  However, the Tigers bounced back the following week by defeating #13 South Carolina on the road.  The Tigers trailed 6 to 20 with five minutes left in the game, but two clutch drives by Maty Mauk secured the win for the Tigers.

The following week, Missouri was blown out at home by #13, Georgia 34-0.  Despite the early deflating loss in league play, the Tigers reeled off six straight wins to finish the season 10-2 and 7-1 in SEC play. The Tigers earned their second straight trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game, only to lose to #1 Alabama 13-42.

The Tigers earned a berth in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on January 1 against Minnesota and defeated them, 33-17.

2015 Missouri Schedule

2015 Missouri Schedule

Last Meeting

Kentucky struggled to achieve much consistency on offense, starting 0-for-8 on third-down.  Maty Mauk led Missouri past Kentucky in a 20-10 win. Mauk added 75 yards on the ground, picking up four first downs, and completed 10 consecutive passes in the first half, including a 26-yard toss to a streaking Sasser in the end zone over defender J.D. Harmon. Sasser also hauled in a 3-yard toss for a TD and finished with six catches for 67 yards.

Missouri's offense gained 320 yards, and the defense limited Kentucky to 258 yards and 2-for-16 on third-down conversions. Patrick Towles had 158 yards through the air for Kentucky, a week after throwing for a career-high 390 yards against Mississippi State.  Towles threw for one yard and an interception in the first half before leading an 80-yard touchdown drive to narrow his team's deficit to 20-10 with 3:26 remaining. The Wildcats then recovered the ensuing onside kick, but Missouri's Matt Hoch and Michael Scherer stopped Towles for a two-yard loss on 4th-and-1 at the Tigers' 21-yard line.

Head Coach

In 14 years at Missouri, Gary Pinkel has meticulously built one of the most consistent programs in the country.  Under his watch, Mizzou has now won conference division titles five of the last eight seasons (2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014), which is tied for most in the nation during that stretch (along with Alabama and Florida State), while the Tigers’ 76 wins in that time is tied for 5th-best among FBS "power 5" conferences.

Since 2007, Mizzou is the only program in the nation to rank in the top-5 among BCS-AQ leagues in wins, while also ranking in the top-10 in success, as well as in the top-5 in most NFL first-round draft picks.  Pinkel's success has guided Missouri to an impressive two consecutive SEC Eastern Division Championships.

Key Offensive Players

Quarterback Maty Mauk is the winningest returning quarterback in the SEC with a career record of 14-4 as a starter. Mauk enters his junior season off a season where he threw for 2,648 yards and 25 touchdowns while running for 373 yards and two scores.  Mauk looks to improve his numbers which may catapult him into the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Tigers offensive line will be a key to the Tiger's success this season.  The anchor of the line is senior center Evan Boehm.  Boehm has started all 40 games in his Tigers career.  He is a candidate for All-SEC selection, and should be valued as one of the most underrated linemen in the SEC.  He will be a selection in this year's upcoming NFL Draft.

Offensive Breakout Player

Mizzou lost starting running back Marcus Murphy to graduation and the NFL, but back to carry the load is Russell Hansbrough.  Hansbrough will be a senior in 2015, and is primed for a breakout season. He has 347 career carries, for 1,883 career yards, and if he can muster another 1,000-yard season, he’d land in the Mizzou career top-five rushing leaders listing.

Key Defensive Players

The play of Missouri’s linebackers a year ago was a big factor in the success of its defense.  Senior Kentrell Brothers returns as one of the top tacklers in the SEC. Last season Brothers ranked second in the SEC with 117 tackles, while Scherer ranked fifth with 107. Brothers played great in the SEC championship with a team and career-high 14 tackles against Alabama.

Kentucky may not play a better corner, beside Florida's Hargreaves, than Aarion Penton.  Penton has developed into Mizzou's best corner.  He has shown flashes in his career, but there have been a lot of ups and downs.  Penton is the favorite to lead the team in pass breakups and interceptions, assuming offensive coordinators attack him as equally as corner-mate Kenya Dennis.

Defensive Breakout Player

Missouri lost a pair of rush ends in Shane Ray and Markus Golden who were high picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. Sophomore defensive lineman Charles Harris hopes to be the next great Missouri rush end.  While he’ll certainly have big shoes to fill, Missouri coaches believe he’s ready to make a big impact.

Why Kentucky Should Feel Good

Despite having one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, Missouri does not have much in terms of playmakers on the outside.  Gone from last season are the top four pass catchers, which puts a lot of attention on a young but athletic group that hopes to continue to improve in the fall after making strides in the spring.  Senior Wesley Leftwich is joined by sophomores Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore as the favorites to take over vacated starting spots. Leftwich has 13 games of experience under his belt and caught only three passes a year ago for 36 yards.

Missouri has been well known for its development of defensive line prospects over the last few seasons.  For the Tigers, 2015 may be a different story.  The Tigers lack depth and experience along their defensive line.  Several key players have been dismissed from the program since the end of last season.  The potency of the Tigers rush may not be as effective as it once was in seasons past.

Why Kentucky Should Be Worried

Kentucky's young ends and linebackers may be in for a long day against Missouri's heavy run load.  In the first seven games, Missouri's backs averaged 23.9 carries per game and 5.1 yards per carry. In the last seven games, the backs averaged 30.7 carries and 5.3 yards. The offensive line really gelled, allowing Mizzou to craft a run-heavy identity. Mauk's legs also played a factor into that identity. He has an ability to scramble and make plays with his legs, unlike other quarterbacks in the league.

Prediction

Kentucky 31, Missouri 21