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Kentucky is a measuring stick game for Connor Bazelak

Bazelak looked tremendous against LSU. The competition is about to take a big step up against Kentucky.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Bazelak just put together one of the best statistical games by a Missouri quarterback in program history. It resulted in a massive upset against the defending National Champion LSU Tigers.

And now he’s about to see his first real test.

LSU has seen its fair share of struggles defensively this year. The Bayou Tigers have allowed an average of 381 passing yards per game. Bo Pelini’s LSU defense has allowed a conference high 22 passes of 20+ yards. Moral of the story: LSU isn’t exactly LSU this year.

I don’t mean to take away from what Bazelak accomplished in that game. He was tremendous in every possible way. He threw with timing and anticipation, he was accurate, and he had multiple throws that showed off his deep ball. He’s going to need all of those skills and then some to post similar numbers against this Wildcats defense.

Kentucky comes into this matchup allowing just 20 points per game, the second best mark in the SEC. Kentucky’s opponents have thrown for just 6.6 yards per pass attempt, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Wildcats’ opponents are converting just 31 percent of their third downs, and have scored on just nine of 15 red zone opportunities (all touchdowns).

This is a really good defense. It’s not as good as Georgia, and it might not be as talented as Alabama. But it’s among the best the Tigers will face this season.

This is the measuring stick game we want to see. And I can’t wait to see how Bazelak performs. I went back and watched Kentucky’s defense to find out how it was so effective the last two weeks against Tennessee and Mississippi State.

The first thing that stands out is how often the Wildcats rush three or four and drop seven or eight defenders. They’ll blitz occasionally, but it’s not a significant part of their game plan. The defense is set up to take away everything deep while allowing the underneath routes if you’re disciplined enough to take them. Tennessee and Mississippi State were not.

One way to take advantage of a defense like this is by taking what they give you. This isn’t going to be a week in which the Tigers are going to have receivers uncovered 50 yards down the field. But this could be when Tyler Badie gets more involved in the passing game. Mississippi State’s running backs combined for 18 receptions for 92 yards. Tennessee’s running backs combined for four receptions for 24 yards against the Wildcats.

Badie’s made the most of his opportunities this season. He has just six receptions, but they’ve gone for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Expect more involvement in the passing game given the way this Kentucky defense plays.

Sticking with the running back theme, we’ve seen Drinkwitz get creative with misdirection this season. We’re going to need to see more of that against this Kentucky defense. Tennessee did have some success with RPO’s and play-action passes against Kentucky. I would expect to see plenty of play-action to pull up the linebackers to open up space in the intermediate passing game for Mizzou’s slot receivers.

One thing Bazelak must avoid against this defense is staring down receivers outside the numbers. These Kentucky defensive backs are not afraid to jump routes - especially when they can see it coming. That was a huge issue for K.J. Costello and Jarrett Guarantano over the last couple weeks. Both quarterbacks stared down their receivers, threw lollipop passes outside the numbers and saw those throws returned for six the other way.

Bazelak has a pretty strong arm, and he showed an ability against LSU to throw with plenty of anticipation. That should help him avoid some of the trouble Mississippi State and Tennessee ran into.

This is the matchup we’ve been waiting for. What we saw from Bazelak against LSU was plenty to get Tigers fans excited. If he’s able to follow that up with a big game against this Kentucky defense, all bets are off.

This is a measuring stick game. A bad game by Bazelak doesn’t mean he’s toast. This defense has made plenty of quarterbacks look terrible, and they’ll make plenty more look bad in the future. But a good game?

Ohhhhhh, buddy. If Bazelak puts together another good game, all bets are off.