In fewer than 48 hours, Mizzou and Kentucky will kick off at Faurot Field. We've spent the last week navel-gazing and talking about what Missouri needs to do to improve. Now let's take a look at the team the Tigers are actually playing. Today, we're depth-chartin'. Tomorrow, BTBS'ing.
Jalen Whitlow (6'2, 202, Fr.) (368 passing yards, 47% completion, 1 TD, 2 INT; 78 rushing yards, 2 TD)
Morgan Newton (6'4, 240, Sr.) (73 passing yards, 31% completion, 1 TD, 3 INT; 62 rushing yards, 1 TD)
Patrick Towles (6'5, 242, Fr.) (71 passing yards, 83% completion, 1 TD)
Kentucky is one of the few teams in the country that can one-up Mizzou in the "QB injuries" field. Maxwell Smith was named the starter and did reasonably well for three games (975 yards, 69% completion rate), but he tore ankle ligaments against South Carolina and is out indefinitely. Long-embattled senior Morgan Newton has been awful, and blue-chip QB Of The Future™ Patrick Towles also got hurt, leaving freshman Jalen Whitlow in charge. Whitlow is listed as "Quarterback/Athlete" on the Kentucky roster and has been forced to play far more than UK probably anticipated or wanted. He is an interesting run-pass threat and did well on the ground for a little while against Georgia last week. Towles is back and practicing this week, but he was not listed on the depth chart, and it is unclear if he will be available. If it's between Whitlow and Newton for playing time, Mizzou almost certainly has nothing to worry about from the Kentucky passing game.
TB: Jonathan George (5'10, 223, Jr.) (288 rushing yards, 4.8/carry, 3 TD; 150 receiving yards, 10.0/target, 1 TD)
Raymond Sanders (5'8, 197, Jr.) (396 rushing yards, 5.2/carry, 3 TD; 85 receiving yards, 5.7/target)
Dyshawn Mobley (5'11, 223, Fr.) (90 rushing yards, 4.5/carry; 1 receiving yard)
FB: D.J. Warren (6'0, 241, So.) (2 rushing yards)
Cody Jones (5'11, 212, Jr.)
What Kentucky lacks in standout talent, it makes up for in depth. Jonathan George and three-star freshman Dyshawn Mobley are basically the exact same back at this point, and Raymond Sanders III provides a solid, quick counterpunch. If Whitlow is playing quarterback for Kentucky, he and this stable could provide a solid threat on the ground. George carried 12 times for 87 yards against Georgia last week. Whoever is running the ball gets help from a line that is mediocre in pass protection but big and solid in run blocking.
WR: La'Rod King (6'4, 222, Sr.) (396 receiving yards, 6.5/target, 57% catch rate, 4 TD)
A.J. Legree (6'1, 178, Fr.) (37 receiving yards, 12.3/target, 100% catch rate)
E.J. Fields (6'1, 199, Sr.) (23 receiving yards, 3.3/target, 57% catch rate)
WR: Demarco Robinson (5'10, 158, So.) (194 receiving yards, 5.7/target, 65% catch rate)
Aaron Boyd (6'4, 214, Sr.) (172 receiving yards, 5.9/target, 66% catch rate, 2 TD)
DeMarcus Sweat (6'1, 182, Fr.) (80 receiving yards, 13.3/target, 50% catch rate, 2 TD)
TE: Ronnie Shields (6'5, 243, So.) (58 receiving yards, 3.6/target, 50% catch rate)
Tyler Robinson (6'3, 258, Jr.) (43 receiving yards, 4.8/target, 56% catch rate, 1 TD)
Basically, 60 percent of UK passes go to four players: King (25% target rate), Robinson (14%), Boyd (12%) and Collins (10%). All four average between 5.7 and 6.5 yards per target with between a 57% and 66% catch rate. Two (King and former Mizzou target Boyd) are big, two (Robinson, Collins) are small. That Mizzou was able to hang with Alabama's receiving corps (with help from rain, of course) is a good sign, as Kentucky's receiving corps is nowhere near that caliber. Boyd is a former four-star recruit and has yet to play like it, and all other receivers here were mid-three's at best.
LT: Darrian Miller (6'5, 293, So.) (10 career starts)
Jordan Swindle (6'7, 310, Fr.)
C: Matt Smith (6'4, 296, Sr.) (30 career starts)
Max Godby (6'4, 280, So.)
RG: Larry Warford (6'3, 343, Sr.) (33 career starts, 2011 second-team All-SEC)
Jack Gruenschlaeger (6'11, 339, RSFr.)
RT: Kevin Mitchell (6'6, 287, Jr.) (9 career starts)
Trevino Woods (6'5, 281, Sr.)
Like Alabama, Kentucky has started the same five offensive linemen all year. And as with the Alabama depth chart preview I wrote, I am struggling to avoid some pouty "Must be nice" comment here. See what you've done to me, Injury Bug??? You're turning me into the whiny, faux-sarcastic fan I hate!
Kentucky's line is easily the strength of the offense. The Wildcats rank 22nd in Adj. Line Yards, and it isn't hard to see why: the line has 90 career starts, and the two-deep averages 6'6, 308. Larry Warford is an all-conference candidate and road grader. Kentucky doesn't have much SEC SPEEEEED, but they've got the SEC SIZE thing down.
Kentucky's line is basically the definition of average: 68th in Adj. Line Yards, 59th in Adj. Sack Rate. The Wildcats generate a solid pass rush with the front four (it gets no help from any linebackers other than Alvin Dupree on blitzes) and stands up reasonably against the run. Donte Rumph is a solid playmaker considering his size, and as you'll see, Kentucky does a decent job of attacking with hybrids like Taylor Wyndham.
It appears the linebackers are better in pass coverage than run support. Dupree will line up all over the field and attack, and Avery Williamson is the requisite Tackling Machine™.
CB: Cartier Rice (5'10, 187, Sr.) (27.5 tackles, 2 PBU)
Fred Tiller (6'0, 180, Fr.) (18.5 tackles, 2 PBU)
There are nine players listed above; five are true freshmen and two are sophomores. Safety Martavius Neloms is a solid playmaker, and the three freshman corners appear to have potential (they have combined for six passes broken up). Kentucky ranks in the Top 50 in Passing S&P+, but it is difficult to ignore that Georgia's Aaron Murray threw for 427 yards in 38 attempts last week, and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson threw for 372 in 31 attempts the week before that. Corbin Berkstresser is neither Murray nor Wilson, but if he is ever going to have a good statistical game this year, it will come on Saturday.
PK: Craig McIntosh (6'0, 200, Sr.) (20-for-20 PAT, 2-for-2 FGs <40, 2-for-6 FGs >40)
P: Landon Foster (6'1, 198, Fr.) (41 punts, 43.1 average, 40.0 net)
KO: Joe Mansour (6'2, 184, Jr.) (14 kickoffs, 60.7 average, 8 touchbacks)
KR: Raymond Sanders (5'8, 197, Jr.) (2 KR, 19.0 average)
DeMarcus Sweat (6'1, 192, Fr.) (24 KR, 21.3 average)
PR: Demarco Robinson (5'10, 158, So.) (10 PR, 5.9 average)
Landon Foster can flip the field pretty well, and Craig McIntosh seems pretty automatic inside 40 yards. The problems, of course, are that Foster is asked to punt too much, and the offense can't get within 40 yards for McIntosh.
Make no mistake: Kentucky's got some size. But the Wildcats are terribly young in key areas (quarterback, defensive back), and the bottom line is that the team has been pretty awful away from home. Louisville, Florida and Arkansas (all likely better than Mizzou this year) beat Kentucky by a combined score of 119-21. This is a team built to look pretty good a couple of years from now (probably under a coach not named Joker Phillips), but it is probably not good enough to win on the road in SEC play. Don't expect Mizzou to suddenly look fantastic on Saturday, but do expect the Tigers to win by 10-20 points.