UK Football

How Kentucky and Missouri match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky running back Boom Williams has rushed for 639 yards and is fifth in the SEC in rushing at 91.3 yards a game.
Kentucky running back Boom Williams has rushed for 639 yards and is fifth in the SEC in rushing at 91.3 yards a game. cbertram@herald-leader.com

How Kentucky and Missouri match up:

Quarterbacks

After Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson struggled through the air against Vanderbilt, the junior-college transfer bounced back to throw for 292 yards and lead the game-winning drive vs. Mississippi State. The 6-foot-2, 183-pound junior continued to be fumble-prone, losing his fourth and fifth of the season. Johnson is 3-1 as UK’s starter in SEC games. Missouri’s Drew Lock is second in the SEC in passing (285 yards a game). For the season, the 6-4, 220-pound sophomore is completing only 53.3 percent of his throws but has 16 TDs and only six interceptions.

Advantage: Missouri

Running backs

UK standout Boom Williams just missed his third 100-yard rushing game of the season against Mississippi State (99 yards) and is now fifth in the SEC in rushing (639 yards, 91.3 a game). Benny Snell continued his stellar true freshman season against MSU, running for 128 yards and a TD. Overall, the 5-11, 220-pound Westerville, Ohio, product has 469 yards and six TDs. If Snell is not the best freshman running back in the SEC, Missouri’s Damarea Crockett could be. A 5-11, 220-pounder from Little Rock, Ark., Crockett ran for 158 yards and four TDs in Mizzou’s 51-45 loss to Middle Tennessee State. Crockett leads the Tigers with 546 yards and seven TDs. Junior Ish Witter also went over 100 yards (career-high 122) vs. MTSU and has 460 yards in 2016.

Advantage: Kentucky

Wide receivers

Kentucky junior Jeff Badet had a career game against Mississippi State, catching seven passes for 139 yards and two TDs, and his last catch put UK in position for Austin MacGinnis’ game-winning field goal. Senior Ryan Timmons (three catches, 77 yards) also played well. Missouri’s J’Mon Moore is third in the SEC in receiving yards (77 a game) and ninth in receptions (30). True freshman Dimetrios Mason (22 catches, 249 yards) has been a surprise.

Advantage: Even

Tight ends

Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad (26 yards) and Greg Hart (8 yards) each had one catch vs. MSU. For the season, Conrad has 12 receptions and Hart four. Missouri’s Sean Culkin had three catches for 34 yards vs. MTSU and has 10 receptions for 104 yards in 2016; backup Jason Reese has eight catches, including two TDs.

Advantage: Missouri

Offensive line

UK’s Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings supplanted Ramsey Meyers as the starter at right guard three games ago; now Mark Stoops says George Asafo-Adjei is pushing Kyle Meadows at right tackle. In a display of unusual depth, Kentucky has been rotating nine offensive linemen in recent games. Entering 2016, Missouri right guard Alec Abeln (pronounced ABE-lin) was the only Tigers offensive lineman with starting experience — and he had only three career starts. Yet the Tigers offensive line has allowed the second fewest sacks (five) in the country.

Advantage: Missouri

Defensive line

Kentucky redshirt sophomore tackle Adrian Middleton had three tackles and shared in a tackle for loss vs. Mississippi State. After missing the Vanderbilt game with an injury, Matt Elam returned as the starting nose guard vs. MSU. Missouri end Charles Harris has 28 tackles, 5.5 TFL, four quarterback hurries and 3.5 sacks, but the Tigers defense — the strength of the program since Mizzou entered the SEC — has struggled , allowing 458.9 yards a game, last in the SEC. Tackle Terry Beckner is out after tearing an ACL last week.

Advantage: Kentucky

Linebackers

UK weak-side linebacker Jordan Jones had 11 tackles against Mississippi State and is third in the SEC (67). Missouri’s Michael Scherer is the Tigers’ leading tackler (53) and overall defensive leader. However, Tigers Coach Barry Odom announced Tuesday that the redshirt senior tore an ACL vs. MTSU and is out for the season. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Lee made four tackles after replacing Scherer last week.

Advantage: Kentucky

Defensive backs

Senior free safety Marcus McWilson played the best game of his UK career last week, making eight tackles, including a TFL, and returning an interception 45 yards for a TD. Led by senior cornerbacks Aarion Penton (three interceptions) and John Gibson (three), the Missouri pass defense has accounted for 10 interceptions and 48 passes defended.

Advantage: Missouri

Special teams

Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis was big man on campus this week after his fourth field goal of the game — a 51-yarder on the final play — beat Mississippi State 40-38. UK punter Grant McKinniss did not have a good night (34.3 yards average). Mark Stoops expressed concern Monday that season-ending injuries to linebackers Kobie Walker and De’Niro Laster have hurt UK’s kick coverage. Missouri freshman PK Tucker McCann is 5-for-7 on field goals, with a long of 46, and has excelled on kickoffs (32 touchbacks on 44 tries). Punter Corey Fatony is averaging 43.9 yards, has 10 kicks of 50 yards or more and 17 kicks downed inside the opponents’ 20.

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Kentucky 33, Missouri 31.

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