JOE COX: Missouri Game Is The Proving Ground For Kentucky
Kentucky looked mostly sharp in a Week 1 bombarding of Louisiana Monroe. Liam Coen’s offense balanced pass and run, but mostly showed electric possibilities with the deep ball, something not seen in Lexington since perhaps 2010 (or earlier).
But out of the kitchen, into the skillet for the Wildcats, for whom this opening SEC matchup with Missouri is crucial on several fronts. Of course, it’s the first chance Coen’s offense will have to show its stuff against a better-than-awful opponent, but Missouri has also been the team grouped frequently with Kentucky a step behind SEC East leaders Georgia and Florida, but a step ahead of SEC bottom dwellers Tennessee, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.
If Kentucky wants to get into that first tier, they have to take care of Mizzou. The Tigers won a fairly ugly opener 34-24 over Central Michigan, but they have legitimate offensive weapons and a disruptive defense that would love to ruin Kentucky’s SEC debut.
Under second-year coach Eli Drinkwitz, Missouri is generally regarded as a middle-of-the-pack SEC squad. QB Connor Bazelak is exactly the sort of passer that UK struggles with. He rarely forces plays, and led a Missouri offense that seemed to spend half the day turning short fields into field goals against UK in 2020. Running back Tyler Badie eclipsed 200 rushing yards in the season opener, and will likely be one of the best backs UK sees this season. Missouri’s defense gave up 24 points and big chunks of yardage to Central Michigan, but also had 9 sacks, including 3.5 from linebacker Blaze Alldredge, making him a foe to watch.
The Wildcats have shown they can run and can throw. Missouri won’t allow a bunch of the kind of slow-developing long throws that Levis feasted on against ULM. Kentucky will have to plan for quicker, safer throws. Meanwhile, the Kentucky defense will face both a legitimate SEC back and a competent (if not flashy) passer. It’s a good test, for what looks to be a good team.
Before the season, I picked this as UK’s letdown game. Maybe Kentucky was lucky for a few sloppy edges against ULM that gave Mark Stoops enough things to improve on to keep the team focused. Or maybe UK has become good enough to avoid a letdown game at all. Frankly, Missouri was a couple touchdowns behind where I thought they would be in Week 1. As a result, come game day, I’m flipping my preseason forecast.
UK 31, Missouri 17
Other SEC Games
The weekly guesstimates:
Auburn 57, Alabama State 3
South Carolina 24, East Carolina 21
Pittsburgh 28, Tennessee 24
Florida 42, South Florida 14
Georgia 41, UAB 7
Texas A&M 42, Colorado 14
Alabama 52, Mercer 6
Texas 28, Arkansas 20
NC State 31, Mississippi State 27
Ole Miss 49, Austin Peay 0
LSU 49, McNeese State 13
Colorado State 31, Vanderbilt 14
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written or co-written ten books, and his most recent, A Fine Team Man: Jackie Robinson and the Lives He Touched, is available on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.