Mark Story

How Kentucky and Missouri match up — with a game prediction

How Kentucky (3-4, 1-4 SEC) and Missouri (5-2, 2-1 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky slot receiver/kick returner/emergency QB Lynn Bowden has rushed for 295 yards in his two starts at QB, including 99 yards on 17 carries in torrential rain in last week’s 21-0 loss at Georgia. Sawyer Smith — nursing multiple injuries, including a fractured wrist if last week’s ESPN broadcast of the Georgia game is to be believed — has not played since UK’s 24-7 loss at South Carolina on Sept. 28. Is Smith healthy enough to go? If it is another “rain game” should UK stay with Bowden regardless? Stay tuned. Missouri’s Kelly Bryant is 21-4 as a starting QB — 16-2 at Clemson and 5-2 so far in his graduate transfer season at Mizzou. A 6-foot-3, 225-pound dual threat, Bryant (1,715 yards passing on 63.1% completions with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions) had a rough go in last week’s unexpected 21-14 loss at Vanderbilt. Bryant went 13-of-26 passing for 140 yards and threw a TD and an interception; he did run for a team-high 72 yards.

Advantage: Missouri

Running backs

Kentucky’s three primary running backs combined for only 61 rushing yards — A.J. Rose 37, Christopher Rodriguez 19 and Kavosiey Smoke 5 — in the muck at Georgia. Missouri star Larry Rountree III is fifth in the SEC in rushing yards (83.7 yards a game) and has scored eight touchdowns. He was held to 29 yards on 12 carries by Vandy, however. Versatile backup Tyler Badie is a threat as a receiver (20 catches, 215 yards, two TDs) and a runner (329 yards, two TDs).

Advantage: Missouri

Larry Rountree III
Missouri running back Larry Rountree (34) needs 28 rushing yards Saturday night at Kentucky to tie Corby Jones as the No. 8 all-time rusher (2,533) in Tigers history. L.G. Patterson AP

Wide receivers

Playing wide receiver Lynn Bowden at quarterback in a monsoon last week, Kentucky completed only two passes. One was caught by redshirt freshman Bryce Oliver (for 9 yards), the other by redshirt sophomore Clevan Thomas (8 yards). Bowden caught 13 passes for 166 yards in UK’s 15-14 comeback victory at Mizzou last season. Missouri has a well-balanced receiving corps led by fifth-year senior Johnathon Johnson (28 catches, 284 yards) and Arkansas graduate transfer Jonathan Nance (16 catches, 284 yards, team-high three TDs).

Advantage: Missouri

LEDEukfootballLEDE.JPG
Kentucky wide receiver Bryce Oliver (85) caught one of the two passes UK completed last week in its 21-0 loss at Georgia. The redshirt freshman now has three receptions with one touchdown this season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Tight ends

Kentucky’s Justin Rigg (nine receptions, 107 yards) and Keaton Upshaw (six catches, 70 yards, one TD) have been solid. Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam (18 catches, 250 yards, six TDs) is considered one of the best in the nation.

Advantage: Missouri

Offensive line

Kentucky left tackle Landon Young and left guard Logan Stenberg were each called for holding penalties at Georgia at inopportune times for the Wildcats. The overall UK line was named this week to the Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll, recognizing the top offensive fronts in college football. Missouri center Trystan Colon-Castillo has made 33 straight starts. Left tackle Yasir Durant is strong in pass protection. Otherwise, Mizzou Coach Barry Odom has played musical chairs along the offensive front this season.

Advantage: Kentucky

Logan Stenberg smiling & kneeling.JPG
Kentucky Wildcats senior left guard Logan Stenberg (71) was called for holding last week at Georgia in an inopportune time in the game for UK. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

At 6-foot-9, 311 pounds, mammoth Kentucky defensive tackle Calvin Taylor continues to have a big senior season. The senior from Augusta, Ga., had four tackles last week at Georgia. Missouri tackle Kobie Whiteside leads the Tigers with four sacks. End Chris Turner had five tackles and a QB hurry at Vanderbilt.

Advantage: Missouri

Calvin Taylor vs Florida.JPG
Kentucky defensive tackle Calvin Taylor (91) is enjoying a strong senior year with 21 tackles, four tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks so far. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Linebackers

At Georgia, Kentucky WLB DeAndre Square (nine tackles, one tackle for loss) and MLB Chris Oats (seven tackles, 0.5 TFL), played well. The true sophomores are emerging standouts for Mark Stoops. Missouri lost standout MLB Cale Garrett for the season due to a pectoral tendon injury after five games. Garrett had 14 tackles against UK last season. WLB Nick Bolton (team-high 61 tackles) had 15 tackles and three TFL at Vanderbilt.

Advantage: Kentucky

DeAndre Square
Kentucky linebacker DeAndre Square (17) tackled star Georgia running back D’Andre Swift (7) during UK’s 21-0 loss to the Bulldogs last week. It was one of nine tackles Square made in the game. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive backs

Kentucky free safety Yusuf Corker is producing a productive season in his first year starting. The 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt sophomore from McDonough, Ga., had a career-high 11 tackles at Georgia and is UK’s leading tackler (51 stops) on the season. Missouri cornerback DeMarkus Acy is one of the better defensive backs in the SEC. Last season vs. Kentucky, Acy was called for a controversial pass interference penalty on the final play of the game. That led to UK scoring the winning TD on an untimed final down. Mizzou will be without starting safety Tyree Gillespie for the first half after he was ejected for targeting last week. Freshman Martez Manuel is expected to start in his place.

Advantage: Missouri

KentuckyMissouriFootball.JPG
Missouri defensive back DeMarkus Acy stood in the end zone while Kentucky players celebrated after UK scored the winning touchdown to beat Mizzou 15-14 last season in Columbia. The Wildcats’ winning score came on an untimed final down following a controversial pass interference call on Acy. Charlie Riedel AP

Special teams

Kentucky punter Max Duffy hadn’t had a bad kick all season until he shanked a 15-yard punt that set up the first Georgia touchdown last week. As a result, Duffy dropped from first in the country last week to fourth this week in punting (48.2 yards a kick). Walk-on place-kicker Matt Ruffolo is 2-of-3 on field goals with a long of 50 yards. Lynn Bowden had a 67-yard punt return TD last year vs. Mizzou. If Bowden is playing QB, however, he’s not returning kicks. Missouri’s Tucker McCann is a one-man kicking band. As a punter, McCann is ninth in the SEC (43.9 yards a kick). As a place-kicker, McCann is 11-of-16 on field goals with a long of 52 yards. However, he missed two field goals last week from 50 and 48 yards. Punt returner Richaud Floyd is averaging 16.6 yards a return but hasn’t played since suffering a hamstring injury in Mizzou’s Oct. 5 win over Troy.

Advantage: Missouri

Prediction

Missouri 30, Kentucky 20

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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