Kentucky and Missouri know how to play some thrilling football games. Saturday night’s showdown at Kroger Field may have been the most fun one yet.
Despite holding a 7.42-5.24 yards per play advantage, Kentucky had to sneak out a squeaker against the Tigers thanks to a pair of scoring opportunity blunders. However, a win is a win.
Kentucky moves to 1-0 in SEC, and that is all that matters at this point. Let KSR hit you with some takeaways after a fun Saturday night in the Bluegrass.
Liam Coen schemes up the ground attack
After dismantling ULM at home last week, there were some worries about the Kentucky ground attack. The Wildcats just looked off with the run game for most of Week 1.
Those worries are now out the window.
Kentucky rushed for 352 non-sack yards and averaged seven yards per pop in the 35-28 win. Chris Rodriguez Jr. led the way with 207 yards on 27 attempts with three touchdowns. The redshirt junior’s 55.56 percent rushing success rate gave the offense some much-needed efficiency. That helped open up the passing attack.
Wan’Dale Robinson chipped in with a 64-yard rush on a jet sweep to get the party started, and Kavosiey Smoke had a pair of explosive runs. Will Levis’ legs picked up some key third-down conversions as the ground attack was the story of the game.
Meanwhile, the offensive line gave up just three non-sack tackles for loss against a defense that is shooting gaps and bringing stunts frequently.
This was an excellent performance from what should be one of college football’s top rushing offenses.
Kentucky has a defense loaded with seniors who know Brad White’s scheme in and out. However, Kentucky is a deep zone defense that keeps everything in front and dares opposing offenses to dink-and-dunk their way down the field.
For the second year in a row, Eliah Drinkwitz and Connor Bazelak had no issues doing that.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback averaged just 5.65 yards per attempt on 52 throws. However, Bazelak logged a 48.07 percent passing success rate due to an effective dink-and-dunk strategy despite not having a completion over 25 yards.
Kentucky was unable to get the Tigers in advantageous down and distances thanks to zero tackles for loss through the first three quarters. The ‘Cats turned it on in the fourth quarter with a handful of havoc plays, but overall this group needs to be more efficient. Getting some disruption snaps would help fix a lot of problems.
Efficiency on the ground and explosives in the passing game — that is the winning recipe for Kentucky football.
This was the main reason why Liam Coen was brought into the program, and the new play-caller has accomplished the mission through eight quarters of football.
Will Levis only threw the ball 18 times but averaged a robust 9.94 yards per attempt with a 50 percent success rate and 27.78 percent explosive pass rate. These results were just what the doctor ordered.
Levis had three completions over 25 yards and made Missouri pay for isolating in man coverage on the outside. His sack rate of 20 percent needs to improve, but Levis is giving Kentucky some winning quarterback play.
Ball security issues
After coughing the ball up three times last week, Kentucky found themselves losing the turnover battle once again.
The Wildcats finished the game just minus-one in the turnover column, but the two takeaways were brutal. Chris Rodriguez Jr.’s fumble at the goal line ended up being a 14-point swing. Hold onto that and Kentucky is up 28-7 at the half.
Meanwhile, another ball glanced off the hands of a receiver in the middle of the field leading to another interception for the second week in a row.
Kentucky will be unable to beat good teams with this sloppiness. The Wildcats must get these issues fixed soon.
Games are won and lost in the last four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third quarter. Missouri put themselves in a position to steal the game due to this.
The Tigers went on a nine-play, 80-yard drive in two-minute offense before the half to cut the lead to one possession heading into halftime. The Tigers got the ball to begin the third quarter and looked to be in business.
Kentucky was nearing a dangerous point of the game. Jacquez Jones then stepped up and made a huge play.
Three plays after the impressive interception, Kentucky put another touchdown on the board and recorded a push in the always important middle eight.
These are the types of plays and moments that win games.
Special teams needs work
With a chance to ice the game with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Matt Ruffolo had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked by Missouri. This can’t happen.
Punter Wilson Berry was only needed twice, but the Australian only struck punts of 39 and 38 yards. Kentucky needs more leg than that.
We’ve only played eight quarters of football, but Kentucky’s third phase has left you wanting more after the 2-0 start. This is an area of improvement for the team heading into Week 3.