How No. 12 Kentucky (6-1, 4-1 SEC) and Missouri (4-3, 0-3 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
For the second straight game, Kentucky’s Terry Wilson struggled in the passing game (3-of-9 for 18 yards and a touchdown) in UK’s 14-7 win over Vanderbilt. In response, UK Coach Mark Stoops said on his weekly radio show the Wildcats “anticipate playing several quarterbacks” at Mizzou. UK backup Gunnar Hoak has not thrown a pass in a game since the Murray State contest in week three. That’s also the most recent game in which third-string QB Danny Clark appeared. Missouri’s Drew Lock is second in the SEC in passing yards (282.7). The 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior has played in three prior games against UK, starting two, and is 43-of-78 passing for 622 yards with five touchdown passes and no interceptions in three losses to the Cats.
Kentucky junior star Benny Snell continues to lead the SEC in rushing (124 yards a game). Of all SEC teams, Snell has historically fared the best against Missouri. In two prior games against the Tigers, the 5-11, 225-pound product of Westerville, Ohio, has averaged 154.5 yards a game. Snell needs 42 yards Saturday to pass Moe Williams (3,333 yards) for second on UK’s all-time rushing list. Missouri’s Larry Rountree ran for 118 yards and three TDs on nine carries in the Tigers’ 65-33 strafing of Memphis last week. The 5-10, 210-pound sophomore is sixth in the SEC in rushing (78.4). Junior Damarea Crockett needs 40 yards vs. UK to surpass 2,000 career rushing yards.
As a sophomore, slot receiver Lynn Bowden has emerged as UK’s go-to pass catcher. The 6-1, 195-pound product of Youngstown, Ohio, is ninth in the SEC in receptions (30) and caught all three of Kentucky’s completed passes vs. Vanderbilt. Conversely, outside receivers Dorian Baker (nine catches) and Tavin Richardson (two, none since Mississippi State game) have gotten scant opportunity to make plays. Missouri star Emanuel Hall (18 catches, 430 yards, three TDs) has not played since Sept. 22 due to a groin injury. He returned to practice this week but his status for Kentucky is unclear. In his absence, slot receiver Jonathon Johnson (26 catches, 295 yards, 3 TDs) and true freshman Jalen Knox (20, 384, 3) have stepped up.
For the first time this season, Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad (16 catches, 114 yards) went without a reception vs. Vanderbilt. The 6-5, 252-pound senior’s physicality as a blocker always makes him valuable to the UK running game. Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam is having a monster season. The 6-5, 255-pound redshirt sophomore has caught 37 passes for 400 yards with five touchdowns.
Kentucky senior right tackle George Asafo-Adjei was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for the second time this season after he graded at 89 percent with 23 blocks at the point of attack vs. Vanderbilt. Kentucky’s game-winning, 80-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter against Vandy came with backups Mason Wolfe and Luke Fortner at guard and true freshman Darian Kinnard at left tackle. Missouri right tackle Paul Adams and left guard Kevin Pendleton anchor a Tigers’ offensive front that has allowed the second fewest quarterback sacks (eight) in the SEC.
Kentucky sophomore nose guard Quinton Bohanna made a game-changing defensive play in the against Vanderbilt. In a 7-7 fourth-quarter tie, Bohanna stuffed running back Jamauri Wakefield on a fourth-and-1 play from the UK 16, forced a fumble and recovered it to set up Kentucky’s game-winning TD drive. Missouri senior defensive tackle Terry Beckner has returned from two knee injuries during his Mizzou career. This season, he has six tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
UK star OLB/rush end Josh Allen continues to play like a First Team All-American. The 6-4, 260-pound senior is first in the SEC in TFL (12.5), third in sacks (eight) and 23rd in tackles (45). MLB Kash Daniel played one of his best games (10 tackles, one TFL) vs. Vandy but also suffered a fractured left hand. He will play this week with a protective covering on his hand. Missouri MLB Cale Garrett is ninth in the SEC in tackles (55). WLB Terez Hall terrorized Memphis with 11 tackles, two TFL, two QB hurries and a sack.
Henry Clay product Davonte Robinson played the best game of his UK career to date in the win over Vanderbilt. The redshirt sophomore safety had seven tackles, a TFL and a pass breakup. CB Derrick Baity (20 tackles, one interception, one pass breakup) is having a strong senior season. Missouri sophomore CB Christian Holmes had a 42-yard pick-six vs. Memphis and two pass breakups. Nevertheless, Coach Barry Odom’s secondary ranks 14th in the SEC (surrendering 287.4 yards a game) against the pass.
With Miles Butler 3-of-7 on field-goal attempts, Mark Stoops hinted this week that true freshman Chance Poore could be Kentucky’s place-kicker Saturday. Sophomore punter Max Duffy is second in the SEC (46.2 yards a kick) and has stopped 16 of his 33 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Missouri place-kicker Tucker McCann is 15-of-21 on field-goal tries. Tigers punter Corey Fatony (43.6 yards a kick) is considered an NFL prospect.
Kentucky 28, Missouri 26
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory