COLUMBIA, Mo. — Call it the one that got away.
That's how Kentucky's players and coaches saw their 33-10 loss at Missouri on Saturday, possibly their best chance at a Southeastern Conference victory.
It slipped away from them in the form of miscues and missed chances.
"It was frustrating because we basically gave them the game," junior running back Raymond Sanders said on Saturday after UK lost its seventh in a row. "I feel like we should have won. We just handed the game to them."
The Cats coughed up the ball three times, which the Tigers turned into 21 points. Missouri had the same number of miscues, but Kentucky only converted those into a field goal.
"We didn't take advantage when we had momentum and we had the momentum a few times in this game," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said. "Momentum with short fields and we didn't take advantage of them."
Missouri picked up its first SEC victory of the season, its first in the newly expanded league, behind two touchdown runs from Kendial Lawrence, who put the Tigers up for good, 17-10, with less than two minutes to go in the first half.
Behind Lawrence's 108 yards on 23 carries, Missouri racked up 186 yards on the ground and 273 yards of total offense.
"As far as running the football, we did things we haven't done around here in a long time: We made an adjustment. That's what we did," Tigers Coach Gary Pinkel said.
After allowing just 77 yards on the ground against Georgia last week, UK struggled against the Mizzou attack, which included allowing the Tigers to convert on 10 of their 16 third-down tries.
"We've got to improve in that area if we're going to stop anybody," Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "Those are two Achilles' heels for us now. We've got to be a better run-stopping team and a better third-down team."
The 273 yards of offense for Mizzou was the fewest for a Cats opponent this season. Before this game, no other team had put up fewer than 323 total yards of offense.
"Our defense played good enough to win," Phillips said. "The thing they've got to do is keep them out of the end zone, make them kick field goals when they get those short fields."
On the flip side, Kentucky's offense managed to convert on just one of its 12 third-down tries and only had 26 yards after intermission.
After putting up 329 yards of offense last week against Georgia, UK managed just 179 yards this week, just nine more than they had in the lightning-shortened game at Arkansas, the one that ended nearly 20 minutes early.
Lawrence started the Tigers' scoring early in the first quarter with a 5-yard run, capitalizing on a UK miscue when Jonathan George fumbled the ball and Sheldon Richardson recovered it and carted it back 60 yards.
Only UK quarterback Jalen Whitlow was able to stop him in time to avoid the TD. Lawrence rushed on four straight tries until he took one in for a touchdown.
As it did on the first drive before the turnover, UK's offense looked comfortable as Raymond Sanders tied it up with his 1-yard touchdown run.
On the first two series with Whitlow driving the offense, Kentucky had 121 yards of offense. They had 58 the rest of the way.
When asked what changed after that, Whitlow said: "We just came out with fire. We just came out hard and drove right through. We just gotta have that fire the whole game. We have to have the focus and the drive to pound it down their throats."
Whitlow, who completed 9 of 18 pass attempts for 76 yards, said the rotation between him and Patrick Towles was cumbersome at times.
"I wouldn't say it broke my rhythm, but it does kind of slow you down," Whitlow admitted later. "That's any time you go to the sideline. You've just gotta get back out there, get warm, just get back in the swing of things."
Quarterback Patrick Towles came in for two series and the offense came up empty both times, including a Towles sack for minus-6 yards to end the first quarter.
In the middle of those, the Tigers grabbed the 10-7 lead on a 44-yard field goal for Andrew Baggett.
Early in the second quarter, Kentucky (1-8, 0-6) tied it 10-10 on a Craig McIntosh 43-yarder of his own. That was the only Mizzou miscue that the Cats were able to turn into points.
Lawrence added another score, this time on a 2-yard touchdown run, that put the Tigers (4-4, 1-4) up for good with 1:32 remaining in the first half.
Coming into this game, Kentucky had two interceptions on the season. J.D. Harmon managed to pick off back-to-back Corbin Berkstresser passes for the Cats.
Kentucky managed to come up empty on both chances to capitalize on Tigers turnovers, though. Penalties killed the first drive and the second drive ended in a missed 47-yard field goal for McIntosh, who has now missed five this season.
With five minutes to go in the third quarter, Missouri tacked on a 31-yard Baggett field goal.
Marcus Murphy added a 9-yard run for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter and seal the win after Towles coughed up the ball.
With 8:45 to play, Sanders caught a Whitlow pass and the ball slipped out of his hands and was recovered by E.J. Gaines, who ran it in 13 yards for another Tigers touchdown to make it 33-10.
"It was a really sloppy game from that standpoint," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "I wish I knew what to attribute it to. ... It's not like they're the first team we've played that's good at forcing turnovers and it seemed like it affected us today more than it had."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com