Mistakes kill the Cats in 48-17 loss to No. 9 Missouri

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 9, 2013 

It became like a broken record the number of times Dorial Green-Beckham's name was called for catching a touchdown pass.

And it was nearly a record broken for Missouri's quarterback.

None of that was music to Kentucky's ears as it fell to the ninth-ranked Tigers 48-17 on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

The loss ended Kentucky's long odds of becoming bowl eligible as it fell to 2-7 and it dropped its 13th straight Southeastern Conference game.

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops tried to remain optimistic with three games left in the season.

"We'll get it done, believe me," he said. "It's hard, it's frustrating, but we're going to keep on going to work and getting better every day. This team is showing signs. We're not nearly as consistent as we need to be."

UK knew it had a bad mismatch against Green-Beckham, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound wide receiver, and it learned just how much of one when the sophomore scored touchdown on four of his seven catches for 100 yards.

"I just felt like I came out there and just beat their defense myself and just went out there and made plays," Green-Beckham said.

Kentucky's coach didn't disagree. "He's a beast," Stoops said.

So was Missouri's Maty Mauk, whose five touchdown passes tied a school record. The redshirt freshman threw for 203 yards in the win, which helped the Tigers improve to 9-1 and 5-1 in conference play.

Henry Josey ran for two touchdowns and 113 yards on 11 carries to lead Missouri's run game, which amassed 223 yards.

On the day, Missouri had 426 yards to 369 for Kentucky.

UK looked strong on its opening drive, marching 76 yards against one of the SEC's best defenses, and it took a 3-0 lead on Joe Mansour's 21-yard field goal.

But the Cats managed just 26 yards of offense the rest of the first half, thanks in part to a plethora of negative-yardage plays, a specialty of the Missouri defense, which came into the game leading the SEC in tackles for loss (68) and sacks (27).

They ended up with 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks on Saturday.

"I was very, very discouraged after that first drive in the first half," said UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown, whose team was forced to punt on its next six possessions after the opening field goal.

Senior running back Raymond Sanders said it was frustrating to see UK back down in the first half.

"I feel like we started fast but once we faced adversity, guys just got flat," he said. "We can't get flat when someone scores or something happens."

The Cats seemed especially deflated after a few costly special teams gaffes.

A shanked punt by Landon Foster that traveled 13 yards helped set up the Tigers' first touchdown, an 8-yard catch by Green-Beckham. On the Cats' next series, Foster's punt near the UK end zone was blocked by Levi Copelin, and the Tigers needed just one play, a 4-yard run by Josey, to make it 14-3.

"It was a huge play," Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said. "Those punt blocks are huge momentum plays, and we scored I think the next play later so that was really good. But I thought it was interesting too though when we fumbled the football in the first half our defense went right out, took a stand, got the ball right back to us and that's what good teams do."

Brown did his best to light a fire under his offense in the second half and it responded behind Jalen Whitlow, who completed 17 of 27 passes and tied a career high with 225 passing yards.

Kentucky, which trailed 28-3 at halftime, did what it could to keep it respectable in the second half, running the ball 11 times for 56 yards and using a nifty throwback pass that ended with Whitlow landing within inches of the Tigers' end zone.

Two plays later, he ran it a yard to give UK its first touchdown of the game, five minutes into the second half.

Then Green-Beckham struck again on a 22-yard grab to give the Tigers more cushioning, 35-10, with six minutes to go in the third quarter.

"He jumps like he plays basketball," UK cornerback Nate Willis said of Green-Beckham. "He's a big dude and it was a tough matchup. But give credit to him, he's a good receiver."

When Sanders' 1-yard touchdown run with two minutes to play in the third quarter cut the Tigers' lead to 17 points, Green-Beckham was the answer again, collecting a 7-yard pass from Mauk on a slant route.

"There's a physical mismatch with almost anybody he plays against," Pinkel said. "We're just fortunate he's on (our) team. A guy like that can make plays, you coach them only to a certain point, you can throw it up and he made a couple really great catches."

Kentucky is still searching for its own play-makers on both sides of the ball, and it's running out of games to find them.

The Cats' search will start on the road for the next two games: at Vanderbilt, then at Georgia.

UK coaches and players are trying to remain optimistic that the answers will come sooner rather than later.

"I said this the other day to somebody: You're steering a ship, not a car," Brown said. "I want better results. I want them here and now. I want to play better on offense, at every position. But we're where we're at. We've got three games and we've gotta be better."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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