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Until Missouri proves it can slow down Kentucky’s run game, nothing else matters

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri has lost two games by a combined seven points; Kentucky has won three by a combined 16. The Wildcats are technically still a part of the SEC East race — at 3-2 in conference play, they are a half-game behind 3-1 Florida and a half-game ahead of 2-2 Tennessee — despite not actually being very good. But what would you prefer right about now: a 4-3 record with a bad S&P+ ranking (70th) or a 2-5 record with an encouraging ranking (40th)?

I thought so. Me, too.

Kentucky isn’t very good at much, but the Wildcats are very good at running the football. Coincidentally, Missouri is very bad at stopping the run. You think that might play a role in Saturday’s outcome?



  • Stephen Johnson (6’2, 183, Jr.) — 69-for-123 (56%), 920 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT, 10 sacks (6.3 yards per pass attempt); 46 carries, 199 yards (4.3), 1 TD
  • Gunnar Hoak (6’4, 200, Fr.)
  • Luke Wright (6’4, 206, So.)

Former blue-chipper Drew Barker struggled early in the season and is now out with a back injury. JUCO transfer Stephen Johnson appears to have been a backup plan of sorts — the College of the Desert product committed to UK late in last year’s recruiting cycle, a Jack Lowary-style insurance policy. Only, he’s starting now. And he’s ... fine, I guess? He torched New Mexico State in his first start, then struggled mightily against good defenses for three weeks. Against South Carolina, Alabama, and Vanderbilt, his passer rating was 81.4; as means of comparison, Drew Lock’s rating vs. LSU was 78.5.

Last week against Mississippi State’s fading defense, Johnson had a nice game. He averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt and, more importantly, did a nice job of sticking the ball into the belly of Stanley “Boom” Williams and Benny Snell Jr. With the game on the line, he completed three passes for 40 yards to drive the Wildcats into last-second field goal range, and UK won, 40-38.

You probably can’t lean too much on Johnson, but he’s at least done a decent job of punishing lesser defenses for focusing too much on the run. And ... well ... Missouri’s defense is pretty “lesser,” especially if the Tigers don’t adjust well to life without Michael Scherer and company.


  • Stanley “Boom” Williams (5’9, 196, Jr.) — 91 carries, 639 yards (7.0), 2 TD; 7 targets, 5 catches, 26 yards (3.7)
  • Jojo Kemp (5’10, 200, Sr.) — 41 carries, 145 yards (3.5), 3 TD; 4 targets, 2 catches, 5 yards (1.3) (questionable) OR
  • Benny Snell Jr. (5’11, 220, Fr.) — 80 carries, 469 yards (5.9), 6 TD


  • Will Tom Collins (5’11, 241, Sr.)
  • Tanner Fisk (6’2, 251, Sr.)

Kemp is listed as questionable with a hand injury, but that’s fine for UK — he’s the least effect of the three backs anyway. Williams has been mostly excellent this year; he struggled against Alabama (9 carries, 22 yards), but that doesn’t really count. He’s otherwise averaged 7.6 yards per carry and provides the same lightning-in-a-bottle presences that he’s had for a while in Lexington.

Boom has a nice partner in Benny Snell, too. In his first game (against NMSU), Snell rushed 17 times for 136 yards, and while he struggled against better defenses, he erupted for 128 yards on 19 carries against MSU, too.

UK knows what it wants to be at this point. The Wildcats are good at running the ball and therefore do a lot of it. To say the least, this is a concern for Mizzou.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Stephen Johnson
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Receiving Corps


  • Garrett Johnson (5’11, 175, Jr.) — 34 targets, 22 catches, 277 yards (8.2), 2 TD
  • Charles Walker (5’11, 203, Jr.) — 4 targets, 1 catch, 7 yards (1.8)


  • Jeff Badet (6’0, 180, Jr.) — 30 targets, 17 catches, 392 yards (13.1), 3 TD
  • Blake Bone (6’5, 213, Jr.) — 2 targets, 1 catch, 5 yards (2.5)
  • Kayaune Ross (6’6, 225, So.)


  • Tavin Richardson (6’3, 216, RSFr.) — 12 targets, 7 catches, 137 yards (11.4) OR
  • Dorian Baker (6’3, 208, Jr.) — 9 targets, 0 catches
  • Jabari Greenwood (6’3, 195, RSFr.) — 1 target, 0 catches


  • Ryan Timmons (5’10, 198, Sr.) — 13 targets, 10 catches, 156 yards (12.0)
  • David Bouvier (5’9, 171, So.)


  • C.J. Conrad (6’5, 245, So.) — 20 targets, 13 catches, 195 yards (9.8), 3 TD
  • Greg Hart (6’5, 245, Jr.) — 5 targets, 4 catches, 30 yards (6.0)

If Mizzou is also without John Gibson (and at the least it sounds like he’ll be limited), then the passing game isn’t as much of an advantage for the Tigers as it could be. Kentucky is deep with experienced receivers, but the pieces of a good passing game just haven’t ever really clicked. Still, if the run game’s going, and you have to put extra men close to the line of scrimmage to account for it, you can get burned deep.

Missouri fans probably remember Johnson’s name. He had six catches for 119 yards against the Tigers in Lexington last year. Meanwhile, C.J. Conrad had three catches for 55. Really, though, these players are a secondary concern. If you can’t stop Williams and Snell, nothing else really matters.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Alabama
Garrett Johnson
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line


  • Cole Mosier (6’6, 335, Jr.) — 4 starts in 2016, 7 career starts
  • Landon Young (6’7, 305, Fr.) — 3 starts in 2016, 3 career starts (questionable)


  • Nick Haynes (6’3, 316, Jr.) — 7 starts in 2016, 17 career starts
  • Logan Stenberg (6’6, 318, RSFr.)


  • Jon Toth (6’5, 310, Sr.) — 7 starts in 2016, 42 career starts


  • Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings (6’3, 318, So.) — 3 starts in 2016, 3 career starts
  • Ramsey Meyers (6’4, 305, Jr.) — 4 starts in 2016, 28 career starts


  • Kyle Meadows (6’5, 300, Jr.) — 7 starts in 2016, 17 career starts OR
  • George Asafo-Adjei (6’5, 315, So.) — 3 career starts

Kentucky’s line has been big for a while, but it’s begun to use that heft for good of late. The starting five averages 6’4, 316, and UK ranks 11th in Rushing S&P+, sixth in Adj. Line Yards, and fourth in power success rate.

The line is still a bit leaky — 69th in stuff rate, 98th in Adj. Sack Rate — but to put it kindly, that doesn’t really matter much against Missouri until Missouri proves it can actually create some disruption up front. If Charles Harris wants to have his second good game of the year, that’d be great.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Jon Toth & Jeff Badet
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports