The Cats were originally scheduled to be hosting top-ten ranked Georgia this coming Saturday, but will instead be traveling to Missouri for a chance to win their sixth-straight against the Tigers as the schedule changed due to Coronavirus issues across the Southeastern Conference.
Missouri was in fact one of the teams in the conference last week effected by Covid-19 cases, as their matchup with Vanderbilt was canceled because of the spread and they were given a BYE week instead. Amidst all of the scheduling adjustments, they are 1-2 and fresh out of defeating defending champion LSU at home 45-44.
Their offense had struggled to get going up to their battle against the purple and gold under new head coach Eli Drinkwitz who also calls the plays, but after inserting freshman Connor Bazelak, the unit took off. Bazelak now ranks third in the SEC with a 71% completion percentage and third in the league with 10 yards per pass attempt. The freshman QB did a really good job of taking care of the ball while taking shots.
With that said, the Tigers’ most consistent position on offense may be at the running back spot. Larry Roundtree III is on pace to be the No. 2 rusher in school history, as he has 3,018 career rushing yards and 27 touchdowns. Both him and fellow RB Tyler Badie, who has three rushing touchdowns on the season all of which were 20+ yards, pose as a viable attack.
“They’re really starting to mesh offensively. You know, obviously with what happened with the pandemic, it’s gonna take a new staff — it’s gonna those new guys time to gel to under their system. And you can see a light bulb go off. Both those backs are really talented and got a lot of juice. #34 (Roundtree) is really consistent — we’ve seen it through the years, what he’s all about. He does a great job of putting his foot in the ground, going down hill. Great tough yards, he’s got a think lower half, so he’s hard to rap up. You see a lot of guys kind of fall off him. So we have to do a great job of not just tackling individually, but gang-tackling,” UK Defensive Coordinator Brad White said on Wednesday.
As hot as the Missouri offense has gotten lately, White’s defense has been record-breaking efficient in the last two weeks. They’ve given up just nine points combined in the last two games, holding Mississippi State Mike Leach without a score for the first time in his career and giving up the fewest points allowed in a road game (7) against Tennessee since only surrendering three points at Florida in 1976. They’ve also forced 10 turnovers in the last two outings, with nine interceptions (2nd in the nation) and now ranking 16th in passing defense.
The defense will be without senior nose-guard Quinton Bohanna, however, who suffered a knee injury in the first half at Tennessee and will be out for the game. That means sophomore Marquan McCall, and a few freshmen, will have a huge role on the d-line containing Roundtree and that rushing attack. UK Head Coach Mark Stoops is confident that McCall will step up and be effective on the inside as a starter.
“I’m really excited for Marquan because he needs to, he needs to step up. Quite honestly, we need to put that kind of pressure on him and he needs to put that on himself to play at the level that he is capable of and I expect him to do that, I really do,” he said.
Missouri’s defense has not been nearly as effective lately as the Cats have been on that side of the ball. The Tigers currently sit 10th in the SEC in yards given up per play and rank 12th in the league in pass coverage. They also rank last in red-zone touchdown rate and have just produced one takeaway.
That would give UK’s offense a chance to continue their momentum from the second half against Tennessee, as they finished with 187 rushing yards after just having 28 in the first half. Also, UK QB Terry Wilson had a really efficient game, going 12 of 15 for 101 passing yards and one touchdown. They converted in the red zone, and controlled the clock.
“Again, we talk about production, and you gotta produce. And he (Wilson) takes that to heart. He came out and managed the game really well and his reads were phenomenal and they put a lot of pressure on the defense there. So, I think Terry’s a, he’s a competitor. I was just really happy for him, I was happy for our receivers, just the whole team,” UK Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran said on Tuesday.
So, both teams are coming in off victories and will be looking to continue their winning ways on Saturday. If the Cats can control the clock like they did in the second half at Tennessee while capitalizing in the red-zone as they will get multiple chances to more than likely, they should come away with a good amount of points and a viable chance to win the game.
On the other side, while Missouri QB Connor Bazelak started off really hot, Kentucky can force him into different tough spots through pressure and deflections that can slow them down much like they have against their last two opponents. Marquan McCall will have to step up to contain Roundtree and Badie, and they will have to make sure to rap up whoever has the ball in order for UK to come out victorious.