Another week, another must-win game for Mark Stoops and his Kentucky Wildcats football team. And to be honest, it is a game that Kentucky should win, even if it is on the road. Kentucky defeated Missouri at Commonwealth Stadium last season in what was a win over a ranked team. Since then, the fortunes of the Tigers have nosedived.
Like Mississippi State, this is a team that is just two years removed from the pinnacle of their success. In 2014, the Tigers were 11-3 and back-to-back SEC East champions and were 3-0 headed into the Kentucky game last year. The Kentucky loss set off a freefall that Missouri has not recovered from.
The Tigers have gone just 4-11 since that loss to Kentucky and this season has been a disaster. After a 79-0 win over Delaware State, the Tigers were outscored 82-21 by LSU and Florida and are coming off a disastrous 51-45 loss to MTSU.
And somehow, Vegas has Missouri set as a favorite. Go figure. Let's meet the Tigers.
On paper, Missouri's offense is impressive. Throw out the 61.7 points a game they scored against Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, and MTSU and you have a very average offense. Against West Virginia, Georgia, LSU and Florida, they average just 19.7 points. And 27 of those 50 points scored were against Georgia. So this "high powered" offense scored just 11 points versus West Virginia, 7 against LSU and 14 against the Gators.
Drew Lock enters the game with the impressive numbers of 1995 yards passing and 16 TDs against 6 INTs. Breaking that down, he threw 12 TD's and 0 INT against the non-power five schools, leaving him with just 4TDs and 4 INTs in the games versus the power five schools. His best game was against Georgia when he passed for 376 yards with 3 TD and 3 INT. By comparison, he went just 4-18 for 39 yards and 2 INT against Florida. While Lock is not a dual-threat quarterback, he is a threat to run. He had 63 yards rushing on 10 carries last week versus MTSU.
The Tiger have their own version of a Wildcat offense quarterback in the form of Marvin Zanders and he is very effective at it. He has completed 9 of his 11 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. He is also the Tiger's third leading rusher with 164 yards and 2 TDs and 6.1 yards a carry.
The Tigers have a solid ground game with the tandem of Dameria Crockett and Ish Winter. Combined, they have right at 1000 yards rushing and 10 TDs on the ground. Crocket has 546 yards and 7 TDs and averages 6.6 yards a carry. All of Crockett's TD have come against the non-power five schools, but he had 145 yards on just 14 carries against the Gators. Ish Witter has 460 yards on the ground and 3 TDs and averages 4.5 yards a carry. He had 82 yards against the Gators but those numbers were a bit exaggerated as Missouri had no passing game against UF.
J'Mon Moore is having a great season as the main receiving threat for the Tigers. He has 30 catches for 539 yards and 6 TDs and averages 18 yards a carry. He had 196 yards against Georgia but struggled against Florida and LSU with just 2 catches for 31 yards. He has good size (6'3) and speed and can give Kentucky troubles on Saturday. Emmanuel Hall averages 16.5 yards a carry on 17 receptions and 2 TDs. Almost half of that production came against Delaware State when he had 7 grabs for 122 yards.
The Tigers have a couple of freshmen receivers who have already made an impact this season. Dimetrios Mason has 22 catches for 249 yards but just four of those catches are against the Power Five teams. Freshman Johnathan Johnson has 13 catches for 219 yards. Tight end Sean Culkin has 10 catches for 104 yards.
After the Tigers shut out Delaware State 79-0, the Missouri defense has been in a literal freefall. Since then, they have allowed 42 points to SU, 40 to Florida, and 51 points to MTSU. For the season, the Tigers give up 458.9 yards a game and 218.8 of these are on the ground.
Throw in the fact that the Tigers have just lost two of their best players for the season and this could be a defense the Wildcats really take advantage of. Missouri lost one of their best linemen in Terry Beckner Jr and their leading tackler, Michael Scherer, to ACL injuries.
Charles Harris leads the defensive line with 28 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He also leads the team with 5.5 TFL and does a good job of getting into the backfield. Marcell Frazier also has 2 sacks and Ricky Hatley has another. They do a good job of getting into the backfield, but this is a defense that the Wildcats can run on.
As always, the Tigers have a pretty solid linebacking corps. Donavin Newsom has 52 tackles and is good at getting to the quarterback with 2 sacks. Cale Garrett and Joey Burkett have 26 and 24 tackles each and cover a lot of ground. Brandon Lee adds depth and has 4 TFL and will be expected to step up with the loss of Scherer.
Aarion Penton is on of the best defensive backs in the league and he has 3 INT and leads the team with 8 passes broken up. John Gibson also has 3 picks and has broken up 5 passes. He has 25 tackles on the year and is a solid ball defender. Safety Thomas Wilson is third on the team with 49 tackles. Cam Hilton is also a good ball defender with an interception and 4 passes broken up.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Over the past few weeks, we have seen this Kentucky football team grow and learn how to win games. The Mississippi State game was a game that "old Kentucky football" would have lost 20 out of 20 times. Yet somehow, they have found a way to win games they would have normally lost. Now it is time to take it on the road and to win a game they should win.
Even though the recent wins have been ugly, they have been wins. And that is all that matters. Kentucky has overcome halftime deficits which they previously had not done earlier in the Stoops era. They are also coming off a nice come from behind win, which should have this team motivated and ready to play. was a task that was previously not done earlier in the Stoops era. They are also coming off a nice come from behind win, which should have this team motivated and ready to play.
I will say that there are some areas that Kentucky needs to improve on and I do not know if that is player execution or coaching. I will say that I have seen improvement in this team and that this team seems to really want to win for Mark Stoops. This is still a very young team, but I like the direction this team is heading and I see them getting close to bowl eligible with a 31-20 win over the Tigers.