football Edit

Take Two: UK-Mizzou Predictions

Scott Utterback/Courier Journal; via Imagn Content Services, LLC
Scott Utterback/Courier Journal; via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Kentucky football has reached a crossroads. Beat Missouri, Vanderbilt, and Louisville to end the season and the Cats can finish right around where most preseason predictions had them.

Stub their toes this weekend against Mizzou, however, and "disappointing" is the only thing that would apply.

How will the game play out? Cats Illustrated writers Jeff Drummond and Justin Rowland share their thoughts.

What are the main reasons for Kentucky fans to be optimistic about this weekend's game?

Jeff Drummond: The fan base is really down right now, but one of the things Mark Stoops has done a decent job with over the years is getting the Cats to play better than one might expect coming off a disappointing game. I think UK will play hard in this one, and they still have the two best offensive weapons on the field in Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez. It’s also one of those awful 11 a.m. local kickoffs, so the typical road-game atmosphere is not going to be a factor on Saturday.

Justin Rowland: There are definitely some reasons for hope. Kentucky opened as a favorite and when it plays its best is probably a better team than Missouri. While there is a a lot of talk about the Tigers picking things up, don't get ahead of yourself on that. They beat a top-25 South Carolina team that probably didn't belong in the top-25. All that's to say Kentucky isn't facing a daunting opponent, and negativity about UK's play in Knoxville and some season-long issues shouldn't be twisted into the Cats facing a ranked team.

What are the biggest reasons for concern?

Drummond: The Mizzou defense is really strong this season. The Tigers shut down Georgia for almost three quarters. They’re capable of being really disruptive behind the line of scrimmage and putting the Cats in difficult down-and-distance situations. Given that Kentucky has been struggling offensively in SEC play for most of the season, that’s a big red flag in this matchup. You also have the fairly consistent track record of the Cats either struggling to win or flat-out playing poorly in Columbia.

Rowland: While I think Kentucky's best is better than Missouri's best we haven't seen very much of Kentucky's best this year and I'm not all that confident that we'll see it on Saturday. The team's inability to play consistently clean football up front in the trenches and on special teams is very concerning especially going on the road. Couple that with the fact that Missouri is a team that's now brimming with confidence, following three one-score losses with two wins, including last week's 23-10 win against South Carolina.

Missouri's offense isn't concerning but the Tigers defense matches up favorably with Kentucky's offense and it's going to be hard for the Cats to score points.

Kentucky hasn't been bad on the road this year. It has a win against Florida, it should have beat Ole Miss, and it was bludgeoned by Tennessee. Not great, but not horrible in the big picture. But UK hasn't usually been able to breathe easy in games at Faurot Field even when they were the better team.

What's your prediction for the game?

Drummond: Kentucky 19, Missouri 16. - This feels like a classic grinder game to me. I think the Cats bounce back and win this one, but it’s not likely going to be pretty. Mark Stoops doesn’t care what it looks like. To quote Al Davis, “Just win, baby.”

Rowland: Missouri 17, Kentucky 16. It comes down to a missed extra point. I could see this game going either way but I'm of the mind that if you've proven you can't get out of your own way and you're going on the road you should usually be regarded as the underdog.

Who do you think will be Kentucky's MVP?

Drummond: In a throwback to yesteryear and Lynn Bowden saving the day at Missouri, Kentucky gets at least one big special teams play from Barion Brown to make the difference.

Rowland: I'll go with Will Levis. I don't think he's going to have a monster game statistically but picking a defensive MVP isn't easy and UK's quarterback needs a good game on the heels of one of the worst games he has played.