UK Football

Kentucky ground attack overwhelms Missouri, 35-21

The music was blaring. The players were dancing in the small, cramped visitor’s locker room at Missouri.

After the 35-21 victory over the Tigers on Saturday, Kentucky had plenty of reasons to celebrate.

The Cats had just won their fifth game in six tries, had just won their fourth Southeastern Conference game for the first time since 2006.

Barring a miracle for winless Austin Peay later this season, the win on Saturday over Missouri all but guaranteed Kentucky its first trip to a bowl game in six years.

But there was something different about this celebration.

“For the first time, this isn’t about the relief of winning a game,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “This is about how much more we can do. … It’s about our team finally being in a position where we’re not satisfied.”

Kentucky racked up 582 yards of offense, including 377 yards on the ground behind Benny Snell and Boom Williams, had two touchdowns apiece in the victory.

That 377 yards rushing was the most against a league foe since 1953, and it’s the first time in school history that UK had two players rush for more than 175 yards.

But there’s more to do, Williams assured.

“We’re not satisfied,” said Williams, who had 182 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries (9.6 yards per carry) and added a second touchdown on a key 13-yard catch in the second half.

“It was a good road SEC win for us, but we still have some games ahead of us that are must-wins that we think we can win. We’re just going to enjoy this win, a great team win.”

Blake McClain, a senior who led Kentucky’s defense in tackles with eight, frowned on satisfaction like it was a used car in a lot filled with shiny new ones.

“Satisfied is back two years ago, being satisfied,” McClain said. “We was 5-1 and didn’t get a bowl game. We’re trying to go all the way this year.”

When Stoops talked about changing the culture, this was the kind of game he was talking about: UK grabbed a 21-0 lead early behind long touchdowns for Williams (60-yard run) and Jeff Badet (65-yard catch), followed by a 1-yard score for Snell.

Missouri made it a little bit interesting with two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes of the game, but Kentucky (5-3, 4-2 SEC) felt good about things after going up by as many as 28 points, 35-7, on an 18-yard run by Snell to open the final quarter.

“We’ve been trying to get to that point where we can finish a game, and I think we came as close as we can to where we finished a game today, which was really nice,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “The confidence: You can see it on the sideline, and it was fun to watch. It really was.”

The confidence could have faded late in the second quarter when Missouri (2-6, 0-4) cut the Cats’ lead to 21-7 on a 27-yard pass from Drew Lock to Dimetrios Mason, who had four catches for 101 yards and two scores for the day.

The Tigers had the ball back to start the second half, but UK’s defense responded with a huge open-field tackle on third down by McClain to set up a short field goal, which Missouri missed.

“We talked about it in here, about getting a stop the first possession of the second half,” Stoops said. “They did get a good drive, but our guys dug their heels in. And even a field goal at that moment would've been a big stop for us. The fact that he missed the field goal was gravy.”

And then the offense did what it needed to do, following up that big defensive stop with a drive that gobbled up 80 yards in 12 plays and took 6:21. UK managed to control the game, holding onto the ball 39:36 to 20:24 for Missouri.

That big drive ended with Stephen Johnson finding Williams for a 13-yard scoring pass where the quarterback had to deal with the play breaking down and improvising.

Johnson, who had one interception, was a respectable 14-for-23 passing for 208 yards and two touchdowns.

“We did a phenomenal job at offense today,” Johnson said. “We were able to move the ball when we wanted to, scored touchdowns. So yeah, we’re pretty close. We’re not there yet, but we’re pretty close.”

Against Missouri’s up-tempo offense that has had two games with 100-plus plays already this season, UK’s defense dug in, holding the Tigers to 4 of 15 on third-down attempts.

The Tigers, who lost their fourth straight game, managed 386 yards of offense, but 113 of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the game was decided.

“Just a very good victory,” Stoops said. “I’m very proud of our team. All phases.”

The win was big for a lot of reasons: standing in the SEC East, likely clinching a bowl trip for the first time since 2010 and more.

It was a good win, but hardly one that had the Cats satisfied, especially with Georgia looming next week.

“We’re not looking for, ‘OK, six wins and that’s it,’” linebacker Courtney Love said. “We want to win. That’s what we want to do: We want to make Kentucky proud and make our fans proud.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Next game

Georgia at Kentucky

7:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network)

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