Mark Story

How Kentucky and Missouri match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky strong safety Mike Edwards, No. 7, is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with three. The junior from Cincinnati is also seventh in the SEC in passes defended (six) and 21st in tackles (32).
Kentucky strong safety Mike Edwards, No. 7, is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions with three. The junior from Cincinnati is also seventh in the SEC in passes defended (six) and 21st in tackles (32). aslitz@herald-leader.com

How Kentucky (4-1, 1-1 SEC) and Missouri (1-3, 0-2 SEC) match up at every position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Since senior Stephen Johnson (averaging 188 passing yards a game on 64.7 percent completion rate with seven TDs and an interception) became Kentucky’s primary QB, the Cats are 11-5. Johnson has taken a pounding the past two weeks, sacked six times by Florida and five times by Eastern Michigan. You have to wonder what toll that’s taking on him. Missouri’s Drew Lock is second in the SEC in passing yards a game (278.8) and has thrown 10 TD passes, but he has completED only 52.6 percent (70 for 133) with 6 picks.

Advantage: Kentucky

Drew Lock
Missouri quarterback Drew Lock rolled out against Kentucky in the Tigers’ 35-21 loss to the Wildcats last season in Columbia. Lock is second in the SEC this season in passing yards a game (278.8). Allison Long The Kansas City Star

Running backs

Kentucky sophomore Benny Snell is seventh in the SEC in rushing (81.2 yards a game). However, the 5-11, 223-pound sophomore is averaging only 3.8 yards a carry, down from 5.9 last season. In UK’s 35-21 win at Mizzou in 2016, Snell ran wild: 192 yards and two TDs. Missouri sophomore Damarea Crockett is fourth in the SEC in rushing (93.8 yards a game) and is averaging 6.4 yards a carry. However, the 5-11, 225-pound product of Little Rock, Ark., gained 202 of his 375 rushing yards in the season opener against Missouri State. Senior backup Ish Witter went for 72 yards on 12 carries against South Carolina in week two.

Advantage: Even

Wide receivers

Kentucky senior Garrett Johnson caught a season-high eight passes in UK’s 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan. The 5-11, 175-pound product of Winter Garden, Fla., has now at least one catch in 16 straight games and has moved to fourth all-time in UK career receiving yards (1,772). The status of senior slot receiver Charles Walker (10 receptions, 112 yards) is unclear after he suffered a rib injury against EMU. Missouri’s J’Mon Moore (12 catches, 312 yards, 3 TDs) led the SEC in receiving yards (1,012) during the 2016 regular season. The 6-3, 205 pound senior from Missouri City, Texas, needs 54 yards receiving this week to enter Missouri’s career top 10. Sophomore Johnathon Johnson had 10 catches against Auburn to move to sixth in the SEC in receptions (18 in 4 games).

Advantage: Missouri

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Kentucky wide receiver Garrett Johnson, No. 9, has caught at least one pass in 16-straight games. Michael Reaves

Tight ends

Mark Stoops said Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad was banged up and saw limited action against EMU. It was the first game this season that the 6-5, 245-pound sophomore (9 catches, 145 yards, 3 TDs) didn’t have a reception. Senior Greg Hart, a transfer from Nebraska, caught his first career TD against Eastern Michigan. Missouri uses a three-headed TE rotation of Albert Okwuegbunam (four catches, 77 yards, one TD), Kendall Blanton (three, 48, zero) and Jason Reese (four, 107, two).

Advantage: Kentucky

Offensive line

Kentucky struggled at the line of scrimmage against Eastern Michigan, allowing five QB sacks and 10 tackles for loss. With redshirt freshman Drake Jackson seeing his first action at center, UK didn’t have any errant snaps in the pistol formation for the first time in 2017. Missouri is eighth in the SEC in rushing and is tied for third in fewest sacks allowed (average of one a game). Right tackle Paul Adams was preseason second-team All-SEC by the coaches, and massive 6-8, 330-pound left tackle Tyler Howell excels in pass protection.

Advantage: Missouri

Defensive line

Kentucky junior tackle Adrian Middleton tied his season high with five tackles against EMU. The South Warren High School product also had a career-best two TFL and a sack. UK is second in the SEC against the run, barely behind Alabama (73.8 yards allowed to 74 for the Cats). Missouri junior defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. turned down offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, LSU and Tennessee, among others, in 2014. Back after tearing an ACL a season ago, Beckner has 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one quaterback hurry.

Advantage: Kentucky

Linebackers

Kentucky’s “Blitz Brothers,” OLBs Josh Allen (2) and Denzil Ware (1), each had sacks against Eastern Michigan. UK WLB and ex-Warren East star Eli Brown had six tackles and one tackle for loss against EMU. Missouri sophomore MLB Cale Garrett came on strong at the end of last season (40 tackles in final five games) and leads the Tigers in stops this year (30). Kansas State transfer Kaleb Prewett has 22 tackles, five TFL and a pass breakup as a hybrid LB/nickel back.

Advantage: Kentucky

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In place of the injured Jordan Jones, Kentucky weakside linebacker Eli Brown, in blue, has made 15 tackles in the past three games. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Defensive backs

Kentucky junior strong safety Mike Edwards is tied for the SEC lead in interceptions (three), is seventh in passes defended (six) and 21st in tackles (32). Sophomore Jordan Griffin made his first career start at cornerback vs. EMU and had two tackles. Safety Anthony Sherrils leads Missouri in career games (42) and starts (24) and has 24 tackles this season. Cornerback Logan Cheadle (15 tackles, one interception) is a cousin of actor Don Cheadle.

Advantage: Even

Logan Cheadle
Missouri defensive back Logan Cheadle, No. 28, watched Kentucky celebrate a touchdown in the Wildcats’ 35-21 victory over the Tigers last season in Columbia. Cheadle, a senior, is the cousin of actor Don Cheadle. Allison Long The Kansas City Star

Special teams

Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis is 3 for 7 on field goals over the past two games, but the misses have come from 48, 57, 53 and 53 yards. Matt Panton averaged 47.2 yards on eight punts against EMU. True freshman Josh Paschal was SEC special teams player of the week after his blocked punt set up the decisive TD for UK last week. If injured Charles Walker is unable to play, true freshman Lynn Bowden will be UK’s punt returner. Missouri’s Tucker McCann is 4 for 5 on field goals, with a long of 43. Punter Corey Fatony is third in the SEC (46.7 yards average) and has stopped 9 of his 21 punts inside the 20.

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Kentucky 28, Missouri 24.

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