No. 12 Kentucky looks to run past Missouri in road contest
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — No. 12 Kentucky made its offensive identity crystal clear last week in a 14-7 victory over Vanderbilt.
Quarterback Terry Wilson threw for 18 yards on just 3-for-9 passing. Runningback Benny Snell Jr. dashed for 169 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.
Running the ball is what Kentucky does. The Wildcats (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) will bring of the nation’s strongest rushing attacks to Missouri (4-3, 0-3 SEC) on Saturday.
The Tigers defense halts the run much better than it stops the pass. Facing strong rushing attacks in Georgia, Alabama and Memphis, Missouri has held opposing rushers to 131.5 yards per game, 35th among FBS teams. But Snell is a different challenge altogether.
“Benny is as good as there is in the country,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “He’s a strong, powerful guy. Looks like there’s not anything there, you turn around and he’s broken off, found a way to get 20 yards.”
The junior back has rushed for 868 yards (fourth in FBS) and nine touchdowns (eighth). He’s tallied over 150 yards against three different SEC opponents — Florida, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt — this year, and posted a four-score game against Mississippi State.
Accompanying Snell is Kentucky’s staunch defense, which makes for quite the ground-and-pound display. The Wildcats give up 12.9 points per game, second in the nation. They haven’t allowed a team to score more than 20 this season.
But the Wildcats will have their hands full with a Missouri offense that slapped 65 points on Memphis last week. Quarterback Drew Lock tossed for 350 yards and four touchdowns on 23-for-29 passing.
“He sees the field, gets rid of the ball so quick, such a strong arm,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “He’s a very good football player.”
BACK ON TRACK
After an outstanding freshman season, Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam hadn’t compiled a 100-yard performance and had tallied just two touchdowns through six games in 2018. But last week against Memphis, the sophomore who Stoops called “unbelievable” hauled in six passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns.
PROTECT THE PASSER
Missouri’s offensive line keeps Lock up, but it will be tasked with countering Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen, who leads linebackers and ranks seventh among defenders with eight sacks this season. Allen — a 2019 NFL Draft prospect — sacked Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur twice last week and posted a three-sack performance Sept. 29 against Mississippi State.
Missouri has been plagued with receiver injuries this season, as wideouts Richaud Floyd, Nate Brown and Emanuel Hall have all missed time. Floyd returned last week, Odom expects Brown to be ready to play on Saturday and said he thinks Hall is “getting close” to playing soon.
Stoops is coaching his best Kentucky team since he assumed his current role in 2013. The Wildcats will finish .500 or better in the SEC for their third straight season, the first time a Kentucky group has accomplished that since 1953-56. 6-1 is Kentucky’s best seven-game start since 2007, a Wildcats team that also started 6-1.
IT DOESN’T GET EASIER
While this game is not one for either team to look past, both Kentucky and Missouri face Top-10 opponents next week. The Wildcats will return home for a contest against No. 7 Georgia, while the Tigers hit the road to face No. 9 Florida.