The first SEC matchup is finally here as the Missouri Tigers travel to Lexington to face off the Kentucky Wildcats. Both teams won their openers against Group of 5 teams and are looking to start off conference play on a strong note.
Last year these teams played a 20-10 game in Columbia which saw the Tigers end a five-game losing streak against the Cats. The Tigers held UK to just 145 total yards, while Larry Rountree III ran the ball 37 times for 126 yards and two scores. This year will bring new challenges for both teams as they look to gain some momentum and move up the ladder in the SEC East.
How to watch Kentucky vs. Mizzou
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Watch Online: ESPN App
(via DraftKings Sportsbook)
Spread: Kentucky -5.5 | Mizzou +5.5
Moneyline: Kentucky - 225 | Mizzou +185
The new challenge for the Tigers will be Kentucky’s new scheme on offense. Gone is Eddie Gran’s conservative schemes that had become stagnant in recent years. In steps Liam Coen and a more modern-day scheme with new weapons at his disposal. Whether it was Joey Gatewood or Terry Wilson, the Wildcats couldn’t get anything going offensively last year. Mark Stoops recognized that and brought Will Levis in at QB from Penn State. He also brought in receiver Wan’dale Robinson from Nebraska, and while ULM isn’t exactly the best team in the world (0-10 in 2020) the offense looked like it took steps forward.
Levis went for 367 yards and three touchdowns while Robinson caught five passes for 125 yards. Longtime receiver Josh Ali also caught five passes for 136 yards, so suffice to say the Tiger defense will need to stop explosive plays. The good news is in the second half against Central Michigan, the secondary picked it up while the defense managed nine sacks against the Chippewas. The bad news? The Tiger run defense remained atrocious at times and the improved Chris Rodriguez Jr. could take full advantage.
For the Tigers, the offense looked more like the one Mizzou fans thought they would see under Eli Drinkwitz. There was more motion and misdirection and that led to Tyler Badie having a career day. Quarterback Connor Bazelak also added two touchdowns through the air. Last season against Kentucky, Bazelak was able to be the ultimate game manager. That’s something he won’t be able to do Saturday against what appears to be another typical Mark Stoops defense. Smart, persistent and disciplined has been the name of the game since Stoops got to Lexington. After Week 1, there is no reason to think otherwise.
Bazelak will have to be able to push the ball down the field and at least provide the threat of a deep passing game. He is at his best when he’s cool under pressure and he will see a lot from a Kentucky team that had six sacks against ULM. Despite the career day from Badie, the Tiger offensive line was porous against CMU, allowing 13 tackles for a loss. If the Tigers have any hopes of winning this game, they will have to be better on the line.
Now I know throughout this preview it seems that I think Kentucky should win by a comfortable margin. In actuality, I think this will be a great kickoff to league play. Kentucky won’t have the same success on big plays they did against ULM and the Tigers will provide a much stiffer test for their offensive lines.
On the flip side, the Tiger offense should be better as Mookie Cooper gets healthy and finally able to run routes. The key for the Tigers is when they send blitzes and try to force Levis into mistakes. If the secondary does their job and doesn’t allow a couple of shot plays then they will succeed. There were times last year against some Power 5 competition at Penn State that Levis had his struggles. But ultimately, Kentucky should power to a win behind their strong offensive line.
Prediction: Kentucky 28, Mizzou 23