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Missouri at Kentucky: Five questions

October 7, 2017 GMT

The Tigers would like to establish a running game, but that’s easier said than done against Kentucky. Only two teams have stopped the run better than the Wildcats through five weeks: Alabama and Michigan. Opponents have rushed for just 74 yards a game against the Wildcats and just 2.6 yards a carry. While Damarea Crockett remains the centerpiece of Mizzou’s running game, freshman running back Larry Rountree III might have earned a larger role with some promising runs against Auburn. The Tigers could use both against UK’s mix of three- and four-man fronts, anchored by 320-pound nose guard Naquez Pringle.

2. Will Mizzou avoid another dreadful start?

Purdue and Auburn ambushed Mizzou from the opening kickoff, putting the Tigers in submission holds with dominant first halves. Can Mizzou avoid early struggles at Kentucky? If not, will they have the gumption to overcome an early deficit and deliver some counterpunches in the second quarter and beyond? Kentucky is 4-1 but labored to finish off all four wins. The Tigers won’t have a chance if they wilt early, again.

3. Can Hall and Brown ignite passing game?

Wide receiver Dimetrios Mason was a bye-week casualty. The second-year starter was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons, thrusting Emanuel Hall into the starting lineup. Former starter Nate Brown, healthy for the first time in more than a year, is expected to join the rotation, too. The Tigers need more consistent production from Drew Lock’s targets, whether that’s Hall and J’Mon Moore on the outside or slot receiver Johnathon Johnson, who’s coming off a 10-catch game against Auburn. Hall can stretch Kentucky’s secondary with his speed, while Brown has been more of a possession receiver in his career.

• MIZZOU TALK: Sound off about the 2017 football season

4. More road struggles for Lock?

Drew Lock is 1-8 as Missouri’s starting quarterback in games away from home and was winless in five starts last year under Josh Heupel’s offense. The Tigers played their best opponents on the road last season — notably West Virginia, LSU and Florida — and Lock’s numbers reflected his struggles on foreign soil. In five road games, he completed just 46.6 percent of his passes with just three touchdowns against seven interceptions and a passer rating of 93.6. If Missouri expects to redirect the course of a sinking season, the offense needs a cleaner performance from Lock, who’s 0-7 as MU’s starter in SEC road games.

5. Can Mizzou protect the pocket?

Mizzou’s offensive tackles and tight ends better hold their ground against Mark Stoops’ pass-rushing tandem of Josh Allen and Denzil Ware, UK’s two outside linebacker-edge rushers in Stoops’ 3-4 scheme. Allen and Ware have combined for 27.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and five forced fumbles the last two seasons. Auburn attacked Lock two weeks ago and forced two fumbles with pressure off the edges. Both Auburn and Purdue toyed with MU’s new starters along the offensive line and disrupted their timing with the snap count. If the Tigers didn’t address those breakdowns the last two weeks, Kentucky’s pass-rushers will pounce.

PREDICTION: Kentucky 27, Missouri 14

Missouri starters

> OFFENSE

QB Drew Lock 3

RB Damarea Crockett 16

WR J’Mon Moore 6

WR Emanuel Hall 84

WR Johnathon Johnson 12

TE Jason Reese 11

LT Tyler Howell 76

LG Kevin Pendleton 71

C Trystan Castillo 55

RG Tre’Vour Simms 75

RT Paul Adams 77

> DEFENSE

DE Jordan Harold 55

DT Terry Beckner Jr. 5

NT Markell Utsey 90

DE Marcell Frazier 16

WLB Terez Hall 24

MLB Cale Garrett 47

SLB Kaleb Prewett 20

CB Logan Cheadle 28

CB DeMarkus Acy 17

SS Anthony Sherrils 22

FS Thomas Wilson 8

> SPECIALISTS

PK Tucker McCann 19

P/H Corey Fatony 26

LS James Workman 86

KR Richaud Floyd 17

PR Johnathon Johnson 12

Kentucky starters

> OFFENSE

QB Stephen Johnson 15

RB Benny Snell Jr. 26

WR Kayaune Boss 19

WR Charles Walker 88

WR Garrett Johnson 9

TE C.J. Conrad 87

LT Landon Young 67

LG Logan Sternberg 71

C Bunchy Stallings 65

RG Nick Haynes 68

RT Kyle Meadows 73

> DEFENSE

DT Adrian Middleton 99

NG Naquez Pringle 77

DE T.J. Carter 90

SLB Josh Allen 41

OLB Denzil Ware 35

MLB Courtney Love 51

WLB Eli Brown 32

CB Derrick Baity 8

CB Chris Westry 21

FS Darius West 25

SS Mike Edwards 7

> SPECIALISTS

PK Austin MacGinnis 99

P Matt Panton 93

H/LS Tristan Yeomans 42

KR Sihiem King 22

PR Charles Walker 88