By Joe Cox
It’s time. Time to get No. 6. Georgia is looking tough, with or without Todd Gurley. UT is showing signs of life with Josh Dobbs and a gritty defense. Louisville can’t score, but they can keep everybody else from scoring. The last three games of this season will be much more enjoyable if UK can go to Columbia in Missouri on Saturday and win its sixth game of the season, clinching bowl eligibility, and allowing the ‘Cats to be a sassy underdog instead of a scared team on a slide from here out.
Last week’s game with Mississippi State went… well, about exactly as I’d expected. I had 38-24, and it ended up 45-31, so you get the idea. The Kentucky offense racked up over 500 yards, the defense made plays in spots, but at the end of the day, the Bulldogs had too much firepower. No shame in that. They’re not No. 1 in the nation for no reason.
Kentucky recaptured some sense of swagger and identity after a rough loss at LSU, which promptly knocked off No. 3 Ole Miss over the weekend. Make no mistake, though… Saturday is, if not a must win, a game that it’d be really, really, really huge if Kentucky could win. Because the ‘Cats haven’t won a road game since September 2010. Because Mizzou is a mediocre team and a decent match-up. Because six, in college football, means so much more than five.
Before we look ahead, let’s look back once more.
Patrick Towles was full of grit on Saturday. 390 passing yards, 76 rushing yards (despite seven MSU sacks which are included in that total), and the best game yet of his young career. He hit the deep ball, he hit the short ball, he pulled it down and ran. Pat still has room to grow, but it’s not an accident that one veteran observer said he’s the SEC quarterback with the most NFL Draft potential. And he’s a sophomore.
Bud Dupree had 10 tackles and a sack and raised cane in the Mississippi State backfield all day long. He’s still a little undersized, but Bud looks like a sure-fire long-term NFL guy. Couldn’t happen to a nicer young man.
Za’Darius Smith may join him there. Eight tackles for big Z, including a sack and two and a half tackles for loss. His football acumen isn’t quite as sharp as Dupree’s, but from the day I met Za’Darius, shook his hand, and stared in awe as I saw that it was about three times the size of my normal human hand, I’ve never forgotten that this guy LOOKS like an NFL player. He’s playing like one too.
Nine carries for 27 yards. That was the entire production of UK’s running backs. Boom Williams was held out due to apparent concussion, but the bottom line is that Neal Brown has to get more productivity from this group. I’ve often maintained that the failure to have one feature back has been a big part of the ‘Cats’ problem. Heard, Kemp, Williams, and probably Horton are all capable. But getting seven or eight carries in a game doesn’t give much chance to produce. I’d really rather see UK pick a featured back and give him at least 15-20 carries.
UK’s run defense, while gutty at times, was outmanned to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry. Kentucky’s pass defense, while spotty, has been surprisingly sharp, but if the Wildcats can’t at least slow the run, it won’t help much.
Special teams again. Mississippi State’s final touchdown came on perhaps the goofiest looking on-side kick ever. Bad bounce, awful coverage, and no tackling ended UK’s chances at the upset in one play. It wasn’t a great day otherwise. DeMarco Robinson muffed a punt and lost 14 yards in recovering it. Mississippi State was an eyelash from blocking two of Landon Foster’s punts, and Austin MacGinnis missed a crucial field goal (admittedly, a tough kick, but still a miss). UK special teams boss Craig Naviar has no luck, and I hope he finds some, or he may have no job in 2015.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
Some of the parity was sorted out.
1. Mississippi State (7-0) - Still holding strong.
2. Alabama (7-1) - Great start vs. UT, but really weren’t that impressive. Just an up and down team, but good enough to beat anybody on a given day.
3. Ole Miss (7-1) - It happens. They’ll get another shot. The loss of Nkemdiche at linebacker hurts, though.
4. Auburn (6-1) - They beat South Carolina by the same margin than UK did. Looked as generally clueless on defense as possible. They’re definitely the fourth of the big four to me.
5. Georgia (6-1) - The stars are still lining up well for a BCS run for the Dawgs. Will Gurley ever make it back? Do they need him?
6. LSU (7-2) - Hard to beat at home. Offensively challenged, but as I noted last week “enough talent to beat any of the teams above them.” And they did.
7. Missouri (6-2) - UK really may be a better team. We’ll see.
8. Texas A&M (5-3) - The sixth best team in the division from Hell.
9. Kentucky (5-3) - We’ll learn a lot on Saturday. Could be No. 7 next week (on this list, not the top 25).
10. Arkansas (4-4) - I’d give them bonus points for letting a 350- pound guy throw a pass.
11. South Carolina (4-4) - Tough loss, but the chance to drive a nail in Will Muschamp’s coffin in a couple of weeks will keep the Head Ball Coach awake.
12. Tennessee (3-5) - They really need this game Saturday, but I think Spurrier will beat them at his house.
13. Florida (3-3) - Yawn.
14. Vanderbilt (2-6) - Bigger yawn.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
Missouri is a bipolar team in a weird division in a crazy year. They went to the Swamp and crushed Florida and were shut out at home by Georgia. They lost at home to Indiana, but they’re 6-2.
Senior QB Maty Mauck was highly regarded, but has not been brilliant this year. In eight games, Mauk has just 1,368 passing yards. While he’s thrown 16 touchdowns, he’s also thrown nine interceptions. Running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy have been much better. The two have combined for over 1,000 yards rushing, and Mizzou averages a steady 4.4 yards per carry. Murphy has also taken back two kickoffs and one punt for scores this year.
Receiver Bud Sasser had two scores last week against Vandy and with 40 catches, 551 yards, and six touchdowns, he’s the Tigers big-play threat at receiver.
Defensively, Missouri likes to play an aggressive style of play. Defensive end Shane Ray has 45 tackles, 14 for loss, and 10 sacks on the year. Safety Braylon Webb has picked off four passes. Mizzou has 28 sacks as a team, and has allowed only 13. Missouri is plus 6 on turnovers on the year, mostly because they’ve only lost one fumble in eight games.
Missouri’s biggest win of the year, other than its plundering of Florida in a bizarre game, was a squeaker over South Carolina. Sound familiar? If UK can avoid getting blasted like Florida did on big plays, they’ve got the right stuff to stick with the Tigers. That said, four plus years without a road win is a tough habit to break.
I noticed in his press conference, Stoops was asked if he would’ve gone for two if UK had scored again once they pulled to 38-31. He said he was thinking about it. It’s good that he was. I think this one goes down to the wire. And that when it does, Neal Brown has a play in his pocket that makes the difference.
UK 29, Missouri 28
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTION
Last week's 5-1 brings it to 55-8 on the season. Best guesses were Arkansas 49-14 (final was 45-17) or the UK/Mississippi State game (had the margin, missed each score by a TD). Worst? Well, I thought Ole Miss would handle LSU and that Auburn would handle South Carolina.
Hope I bounce back strong in week 10!
Week 10 Predictions:
Texas A&M 42, UL-Monroe 7
Georgia 38, Florida 6
Kentucky 29, Missouri 28
Vanderbilt 27, Old Dominion 17
Ole Miss 41, Auburn 31
Mississippi State 48, Arkansas 34
South Carolina 31, Tennessee 24