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Missouri vs. Kentucky Football Prediction and Preview

Will Levis, Kentucky Wildcats Football

Will Levis and the Wildcats look to keep things rolling when they host the Tigers on Saturday night to open SEC play

The lead headlines in Week 1 from the SEC are all well known: Alabama routs another ranked team, Georgia puts the clamps on Clemson, LSU gets pushed around by UCLA, and Lane Kiffin missed the Ole Miss rout of Louisville. Lost among the news was the fact that Kentucky put together a pretty dominating 45-10 win over ULM and Missouri looked good in its come-from-behind 34-24 win over Central Michigan.

Now, these two overlooked programs will try to make headlines of their own in their showdown that kicks off conference play. Both programs have designs on making some waves in the SEC East this season, and a win this week will go a long way in deciding who makes the step up in 2021.

Quietly, this could be one of the better QB vs. QB showdowns in all of college football this weekend.

Missouri at Kentucky

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -5

When Missouri Has the Ball

What will this year's Tiger offensive attack look like? The first pass of quarterback Connor Bazelak's sophomore season was a 63-yard bomb to D'ionte Smith. Last year, the Tigers had just eight plays go 30-plus yards in the passing game. They have hinted at more explosive plays this year (and tried a number of long throws vs. CMU), so look for Bazelak to try to stretch out the Wildcat defense a little bit more this weekend. If they can do that, running back Tyler Badie will frolic. Badie ran for 203 yards in the first game of the post-Larry Rountree III era.

The Tigers played spotless against CMU in the turnover department, not throwing an interception and not committing a fumble. They were only whistled for four penalties, too. If they can keep this kind of discipline and play clean again, it will be a big help. Oh, but improve that 1-for-11 conversion rate on third down.

The Kentucky defense was very active against ULM, holding the Warhawks to just 87 total yards in 63 plays. Defensive end Josh Paschal was credited with eight tackles, including five for a loss. In the first half alone, UK's defenders had three sacks and seven tackles for a loss. They'll be facing a much better offense this week in the Tigers, but you have to love the defensive mindset the Wildcats have so far.

When Kentucky Has the Ball

BREAKING NEWS: Kentucky has a passing game.

In the opener against ULM, Penn State transfer Will Levis had his first pass intercepted by the Warhawks. That was just about the only bad thing that happened to Levis all day. The strong-armed righty was 18-of-26 for 367 yards and four touchdowns. The best part is he hit on numerous long bombs, which has been missing from the UK offense. The Wildcats had more 50 yard-plus pass completions in the first half than the team threw in all of the last two seasons.

Last year, the Cats finished dead last in the SEC in passing. But for 2021, gone is the familiar Ground & Pound offense which saw the Big Blue rank in the top 15 in rushing over the last five seasons (13,524 yards to be exact). But new offensive coordinator Liam Coen has changed the identity of this team. Using the talented Levis, the Wildcats showed much more of a modern, diversified attack, which actually featured a quarterback under center from time to time.

But don't be confused into thinking the running game is a thing of the past. No, not at all. Chris Rodriguez Jr. rambled for 6.6 yards per carry (125 total) against ULM. Plus, the familiar All-Name First-Teamer Kavosiey Smoke is still on the roster, though he only ran the ball five times last Saturday.

If there was one reason for a slightly raised single eyebrow, the UK offensive line got leaky at times, allowing ULM to get four sacks and a handful of QB hurries. This is a line that features preseason All-American Darian Kinnard and LSU transfer Dare Rosenthal as tackles, so they should play better. Keep in mind the Mizzou defense got nine sacks last weekend, led by Rice graduate transfer Blaze Alldredge's 3.5.

Final Analysis

Last year, Missouri beat Kentucky 20-10 and held the Wildcats to 145 total yards, only 50 of which came through the air. The Tigers held the ball for 43 minutes and 10 seconds and gave up just nine first downs defensively. UK starting quarterback Terry Wilson (now at New Mexico) went 4-for-11 for 38 yards. Let me reassure you, that WILL NOT happen this year.

I'm digging this new-look Wildcat team. Mark Stoops has hired some new coaches and given them a shot in the arm. We'll see if it gives them a makeover in the won-loss department, but my gut says it will as the Big Blue now ascends to dark horse status in the SEC East.

They'll use this game to officially announce their claim that they are going to be a force to be reckoned with in this monster conference.

Prediction: Kentucky 38, Missouri 27

Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.