The Kentucky Wildcats are coming off one of the most embarrassing performances of the Mark Stoops era, losing 51-13 against Georgia. It wasn’t just that the Wildcats lost, as Georgia is the No. 1 ranked team in the country, but they were outplayed, outcoached, out-schemed, and at times, even outclassed.
The Wildcats do not have an easy tune-up game to get back on track. Instead, they will face off against SEC East foe Missouri, who is not ranked in the AP Poll after a loss to LSU but is ranked 25th in the Coaches Poll.
In a make-or-break year for coach Eli Drinkwitz, his fourth as the Missouri head coach, the Tigers are off to a 5-1 start, which includes a win over a then No. 15 ranked Kansas State squad in Week three. The main catalyst for this impressive start has been an offense that is ranked top five in the SEC in total offense.
The Kentucky-Missouri series has been one with a lot of close games, including four of the last six, which have been decided by one score or less. Will this year be another instant classic? Let’s dig into the matchup.
Slow Down Missouri’s Passing Attack
Averaging 322 passing yards per game, Missouri has one of the best passing attacks, not just in the SEC but in the country. They are efficient as well, completing over 70% of their passes for a total of 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. That passing attack starts with quarterback Brady Cook and wide receiver Luther Burden, who are playing at an all-conference level.
“Quarterback is playing at a really high level. Really confident in his ball placement. He’s big, he’s athletic. I really think he’s one of the top QBs in this league and playing at a level that you can make the argument he’s as good as anybody in the country,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said of Cook. “Burden is playing at an extremely high level, you see by receptions, yards, what he does when the ball is in his hands. They have a lot of options to count on and that we have to account for.”
Of course, Kentucky is coming off a game where they could not defend any pass, as the Dawgs completed nearly 80% of their passes. That is unacceptable given the standard that White and this program have set, and they must respond with a better effort on Saturday.
That said, you have to respect Missouri’s run game as well, with running back Cody Schrader averaging more than six yards per carry.
Most Kentucky fans were not expecting a win over Georgia, but they were expecting a competitive game and to play clean football. At the end of the day, neither was the case.
Comparing the penalty numbers with the team stats can be a little misleading, as Georgia actually had more penalties and penalty yards. However, Kentucky benefitted from some declined and offsetting penalties.
Also, a number of these penalties came at poor times, halting promising offensive drives or providing Georgia extra opportunities on third down. Due to that, any chance for Kentucky to capture momentum quickly evaporated.
When playing undisciplined football, it makes it incredibly difficult to beat any good team, especially in the SEC. This season Kentucky has received 40 penalties for 357 yards. That said, Missouri is not far off with 45 penalties for 325 yards.
In a game where one drive could decide the game, Kentucky cannot afford to have many self-inflicted mistakes and must be better mentally prepared on Saturday.
Set the Tone for the Rest of the Season
With half the season played and a 5-1 record, there is still more to be learned from this Kentucky football team. They have beaten four easy opponents, beaten an inconsistent Florida team, and embarrassed by No. 1 Georgia.
Saturday’s game will be a true test, going up against Missouri, a team with a similar ranking and that has played you close for the better part of the last decade. The result could indicate which direction the season could be headed. If the Wildcats can win, a historic season is still on the table with just one loss. However, if they lose, it could spell trouble.
No. 24 Kentucky Wildcats (5-1, 2-1 SEC) vs. Missouri Tigers (5-1, 2-1 SEC)
Time/Date: 7:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 14th, 2023
Location: Kroger Field in Lexington, KY
TV Channel: SEC Network
Announcers: Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers, Cole Cubelic
Radio: Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro have the UK radio network call on the UK Sports Radio Network.
Satellite Radio: XM Channel 203, Sirius Channel 98, Internet Channel 966
Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
Predictions: TeamRankings has Kentucky coming away with a 27-24 win, with DRatings.com also picking the Cats in a 27-21 victory. As history suggests, I’m predicting another close game, but I like the home team to respond with a 30-24 victory, Kentucky!
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.