Wildcats travel to Columbia for crucial SEC East game against upset-minded Tigers
Kentucky will enter Saturday's game against Missouri ranked No. 12 in the latest AP Top 25, the Wildcats’ highest placement since slotting in at No. 8 on Oct. 14, 2007. The two teams have played every year since 2012 after a 43-year hiatus, with Kentucky having won the last three meetings.
Kentucky has slowly climbed up the SEC East standings to claim a piece of the division lead at 4-1. Tied with Georgia and Florida, the latter of whom Kentucky beat 27-16 in Week 2, the Wildcats have benefitted from a home-heavy first seven games, playing only two games away from Lexington to begin the 2018 season and splitting the two while winning all five at home.
Kentucky dropped its last road game at Texas A&M but responded last week to win 14-7 against Vanderbilt. The Commodores couldn’t muster 300 yards against the Wildcats, who allowed an opening-quarter touchdown before holding the visitors scoreless for the rest of the game.
The Wildcats’ offensive stats, meanwhile, are more reminiscent of an option-minded military academy than an SEC team. Terry Wilson Jr. attempted only nine passes and completed only three, with all three — including a touchdown — going for 18 yards to Lynn Bowden. Benny Snell carried 32 times for 169 yards and a touchdown. Keep an eye on his usage in this game coming off such a heavy workload.
The first half of the season was a tale of two halves for Missouri, winning each of its first three games by an average of 22.3 points per game before losing to Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. The Tigers rebounded in a big way, putting up 65 points in a 32-point win over Memphis last Saturday. Drew Lock continued his aerial attack, completing 23-of-29 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Larry Rountree III added 118 yards on only nine carries, three of which found the end zone.
Kentucky at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Missouri -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Snell keep it up?
While Snell ranks No. 4 nationally (and best in the SEC) in rushing yards at 868, his 5.8 yards per carry sits at fifth-best in the conference and 36th in the FBS. Snell has been tremendous thus far, but his workload has been quite high during the Wildcats’ first seven games. That trend continued last week with Snell’s 32 rushes, so while his production is among the nation’s best, his efficiency is far from it.
2. Lock vs. stifling UK defense
Not many defenses have been able to stop — or even slow down — Drew Lock this season, and chalk Kentucky up as a team likely unable to contain the senior quarterback. The Wildcats pose arguably the best remaining challenge to the Tigers’ potent offense, allowing under 190 yards passing per game and holding opponents to an SEC-best (and No. 2 nationally) 12.9 points per game.
3. Red zone play
Sure, Lock and the Tigers can be explosive offensively, but they might want to try to score on big plays as opposed to long drives. That’s because Kentucky features the third-best red zone defense in the nation, while Missouri’s red zone offense is only slightly above average. With Lock, Rountree and Co. running the show for Missouri, look for the Tigers to be aggressive and try to exploit Kentucky’s struggling secondary with deep shots down the field.
Both Kentucky and Missouri won last week after losses the week prior, setting up a very interesting matchup on Saturday. Missouri has yet to win an SEC game, and what a first conference win it would be if they can upset 12th-ranked Kentucky. Kentucky, though, is looking for some more momentum before hosting Georgia next week and could certainly use a road win against the high-flying Tigers to boost morale before a potential showdown to decide the SEC East.
Prediction: Missouri 28, Kentucky 27
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.