By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — Anytime Kentucky and Missouri meet on the gridiron it’s sure to be a close contest.
It’s happened the last two times the two Southeastern Conference rivals have met, including last season when Terry Wilson’s last-minute touchdown pass to C.J. Conrad gave the Wildcats a 15-14 victory over the Tigers in Columbia. In a previous meeting two years ago in Lexington, Kentucky yanked out a 40-34 victory.
Overall, the Wildcats (3-4, 1-4 SEC) have won four in a row over Missouri, with the largest margin of victory coming in 2016 when Kentucky posted a 35-21 triumph in Columbia. Despite the recent advantages, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is expecting a close encounter Saturday night at Kroger Field.
“They’re very similar to the way they have been,” he said. “And one thing I think you really look at them and they play hard, they really have some guys up front that I really respect the way they play. They play tough, they play physical, and it doesn’t surprise me.”
Kentucky is coming off a 21-0 setback to No. 10 Georgia last weekend in Lynn Bowden’s second career start art quarterback. The Wildcats struggled throwing the ball and Stoops hinted earlier this week the Wildcats need to have more balance on offense and is hopeful starting quarterback Sawyer Smith will return in the pocket.
Stoops added his squad has put the Bulldogs on the back burner and looking ahead to the Tigers.
“We’ve moved on and that’s what motivates us, that’s what’s fun about it and exciting about it is getting ready for the next challenge,” Stoops said. “And you better be ready because this league gives no mercy.”
Kentucky’s defensive has played well this season and held Georgia scoreless through the first two-plus quarters last week. The Wildcats are just one of seven FBS teams that have yet to give up a pass play of 40 or more yards this season.
“I’m very pleased with the progress,” Stoops said. “The way the defense is improving, certain guys are improving, that is very good to see. I feel like there were some inconsistencies at times this year with our standards as far as how hard we play. I think these guys are understanding that, playing very hard and playing more and more confident, and so I’m pleased with that progress. If we keep that mentality for the second part of the season and continue to improve, I like our chances.”
The Wildcats will have to deal with a dual-threat signal caller in former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant who rushed for a team-high 72 yards in Missouri’s 21-14 loss to Vanderbilt.
“It’s going to be difficult, it is what it is, our guys understand that,” he said. “So it’s just a new challenge, it’s the challenge of the week and Kelly’s had a really good year and can make all the throws, he can certainly hurt you with the run game.”
Stoops is hopeful the Wildcats can continue the recent success against the Tigers before next week’s bye, the second of the season.
“it’s an important game (and) it is important to get this victory,” the Kentucky coach said. “It’s the next game. And the bye week is what it is. I’ll tell you after game if we go play really well and I wish we were ready to go play the next week will. It’s just hard to tell.”
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Gametracker: Missouri at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at email@example.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.