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Kentucky at Missouri: Wildcats' offense is young and fun

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Kentucky's offense is young and volatile, with lots of big-play capability and plenty of breakdowns. Missouri's own defensive strengths -- no big pass plays, solid line play -- match up pretty well as a whole.

Andy Lyons

Playing Kentucky a week after playing Vanderbilt is a jarring football experience. From a styles standpoint, Kentucky is almost nothing like Vanderbilt (and vice versa). The Wildcats play fast and aggressive, and while that doesn't always mean good things -- they scored just 20 points and averaged 4.8 yards per play against a pretty lowly Ohio team, they scored 17 at 4.8 against Vandy, and they scored 3 at 3.4 against LSU -- it will test a defense's discipline. Missouri seems to have quite a bit of that, but we'll see if it holds up, especially if Missouri's offense regresses again.

QB
Patrick Towles (6'5, 238, So.) (163-for-271, 2,077 yards, 12 TD, 4 INT, 23 sacks, 6.5 yards/attempt; 67 carries, 370 yards, 4 TD)
Reese Phillips (6'2, 218, RSFr.) (2-for-5, 45 yards)

Patrick Towles saved perhaps his best performance for when the biggest cameras were on. A week after managing just an 86.9 passer rating against LSU, he went 24-for-43 for 390 yards and two scores (passer rating: 147.4) with CBS in town against Mississippi State. That's how you build a reputation.

For the season, Towles' numbers are fine. He's got a 60 percent completion rate, which should probably be a bit higher when you're averaging 12.7 yards per completion, but he's managed to hit his share of big plays while throwing only four interceptions. And as anybody who watched the MSU game can attest, he's a pretty solid keep-'em-honest run threat. Not including sacks, he averages about 5.5 yards per carry over about eight carries per game. That gives defenses one more thing to think about as they attempt to cover the multitude of weapons Kentucky is willing to use (with varying degrees of success).

RB
Braylon Heard (5'11, 189, Jr.) (46 carries, 299 yards, 3 TD; 17 targets, 14 catches, 60 yards)
Jojo Kemp (5'10, 194, So.) (63 carries, 314 yards, 4 TD; 5 targets, 3 catches, 12 yards)
Mikel Horton (6'1, 230, Fr.) (39 carries, 201 yards, 2 TD)
Stanley "Boom" Williams (5'9, 200, Fr.) (30 carries, 222 yards, 2 TD; 10 targets, 8 catches, 90 yards, 1 TD)

FB
D.J. Warren (6'0, 251, Sr.) (2 targets, 2 catches, 15 yards)
Jeff Witthuhn (6'3, 246, So.)

Braylon Heard was originally a Nebraska signee. Not to alarm anybody, but here's the last time Mizzou faced a Nebraska-signee at running back (NSFW).

Sorry, I threw that at you when you weren't prepared for it, didn't I...

Heard is listed as UK's No. 1 back, but in the last three games combined, he's gotten 11 carries for 15 yards. In that same span of time, he's caught eight passes for 31 yards. That probably tells you what to expect from UK. Against MSU, Heard had five carries, Jojo Kemp had three, and Mikel Horton had one. Against LSU, Boom Williams had seven, Horton had five, Kemp had four, and Heard had three. It's a big rotation, and none of the backs are going to be pounding away between the tackles too much.

WR
Ryan Timmons (5'10, 195, So.) (57 targets, 36 catches, 453 yards, 2 TD)
T.V. Williams (5'10, 160, Fr.) (9 targets, 4 catches, 64 yards)

WR
Demarco Robinson (5'10, 198, So.) (34 targets, 24 catches, 392 yards, 1 TD)
Blake Bone (6'5, 198, Fr.) (25 targets, 13 catches, 183 yards, 2 TD)

WR
Javess Blue (6'0, 191, Sr.) (24 targets, 15 catches, 317 yards, 3 TD)
Dorian Baker (6'3, 197 Fr.) (28 targets, 17 catches, 182 yards, 1 TD)
Rashad Cunningham (6'4, 225, Jr.)

WR
Joey Herrick (6'1, 197, Jr.) (10 targets, 5 catches, 42 yards)
Garrett Johnson (5'11, 176, Fr.) (28 targets, 16 catches, 249 yards, 2 TD)

TE
Steven Borden (6'3, 246, Sr.) (7 targets, 3 catches, 32 yards)
Ronnie Shields (6'5, 254, Sr.) (4 targets, 3 catches, 29 yards)

UK will pass a lot on standard downs, and against Missouri, that's not the worst idea in the world. Mizzou is at its best when facing power- and run-heavy teams, and the Tigers are willing to give up any number of short standard-downs passes, at least until you get into Mizzou territory.

When he's passing, Towles simply goes where the defense dictates. Ryan Timmons has emerged as a clear No. 1, but part of that is because he's on the field more. If you look at the four WR positions listed above, Timmons' position has 66 targets, and the other three have 59, 52, and 38. It's just that Demarco Robinson, Blake Bone, Javess Blue, Dorian Baker, and Garrett Johnson all rotate pretty significantly. And Towles has proven he'll try to trust every single one of them.

Robinson and Blue are averaging well over 10 yards per target, and there's a lot of balance in this young receiving corps. You've got some big-play guys (Blue averages 21.1 yards per catch, Robinson 16.3, Johnson 15.6, Bone 14.1), and you've got some solid efficiency options (Timmons has a 63 percent catch rate, Robinson 71 percent, Blue 63 percent, Baker 61). And of the nine wideouts listed above, six are freshmen or sophomores. UK will test Mizzou's depth in the defensive backfield.

The funny thing is, that last sentence doesn't scare me nearly as much as it would have in September. Mizzou's secondary has earned some trust at this point. The Tigers will give you eight-yard passes, but they've been outstanding at limiting opponents' big-play opportunities. In conference play, Mizzou is allowing only 9.6 yards per completion, and with only a 59 percent completion rate to boot. Those are fantastic numbers.

If Mizzou can close Kentucky's access to big plays -- UK had a ton of them against MSU -- then the Tigers should be able to keep the Wildcats' point total low enough that Mizzou's own flawed offense can keep them ahead. But a couple of big gainers and easy scores might make it pretty rough on Missouri's offense.

LT
Darrian Miller (6'5, 292, Sr.) (33 career starts)
Kyle Meadows (6'5, 294, RSFr.)

LG
Zach West (6'4, 318, Jr.) (26 career starts)
Nick Haynes (6'5, 319, RSFr.) (1 career start)

C
Jon Toth (6'5, 301, So.) (19
career starts)
Zach Myers (6'3, 287, So.) (1
career start)

RG
Ramsey Meyers (6'5, 300, RSFr.) (8 career starts)
Cole Mosier (6'6, 348, RSFr.) (2 career starts)

RT
Jordan Swindle (6'7, 306, Jr.) (20
career starts)
Kyle Meadows (6'5, 294, RSFr.) (1 career start)

Kentucky's passing game is dangerous, but Towles tends to trust his own play-making ability a bit too much sometimes. He was sacked six times against Mississippi State, and he has run his way into quite a few takedowns this year. Kentucky ranks 90th in Adj. Sack Rate and ranks 119th in passing downs sack rate. He is basically sacked once for every seven or eight passing downs pass attempts; Mizzou, meanwhile, is sacking the QB once every nine passing downs attempts.

In run-blocking, this line certainly passes the eye test -- average size of the starters: 6'5, 303 -- but the numbers are only mediocre: 70th in Adj. Line Yards, 54th in opportunity rate (percentage of runs going at least five yards), 102nd in stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line). Mizzou's defense in those same categories: 15th in Adj. Line Yards, 40th in opportunity rate, 62nd in stuff rate.

Vanderbilt's offensive line had more success than we anticipated against Missouri, especially in pass protection. Mizzou's line will need to bounce back; a strong performance on Saturday will make it awfully difficult for Kentucky to sustain drives.