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Five takeaways from Missouri’s first victory against Kentucky since 2014

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Beating LSU was fun. Beating Kentucky was a relief.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri has defeated Kentucky for the first time since 2014.

I’m just going to let that sit for a moment.

Barry Odom was never able to beat Kentucky, and it was a big part of the reason as to why he’s no longer the coach in Columbia. To add a little context on just how long it’s been since that game, here’s a quick recap of what was taking place in America the last time the Tigers came out of a game against the Wildcats with a victory.

Disney had just announced Toy Story 4. “Nightcrawler” was the blockbuster film in theaters. “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift was at the top of the Billboard Top 100 charts. LeBron had just made his return debut in a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey. Marcus Mariota was on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. Tony Romo was still the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Patrick Mahomes was a freshman quarterback at Texas Tech.

Yeah, it’s been a minute, so take this one in. Enjoy it. The Tigers are 2-2 with wins against LSU and Kentucky. Not too shabby, Eli Drinkwitz. Not too shabby at all.

With that said, let’s dive deeper into how Mizzou did it and what we saw from the Tigers in their dominant 20-10 victory against the Kentucky Wildcats.

1) Missouri gave Kentucky a taste of its own medicine

Here’s a brief list of a few Missouri drives:

  • 13 plays, 66 yards, 6:01, touchdown.
  • 12 plays, 64 yards, 2:53, field goal.
  • 21 plays, 66 yards, 9:35, turnover on downs.
  • 15 plays, 61 yards, 7:04, field goal.

Would you like to score more points on those drives? Of course. And that’s something that needs to be improved moving forward. The Tigers were abysmal in the red zone. But Missouri just played Kentucky’s game and beat the Wildcats with it. Missouri’s running backs finished the game with 50 carries for 178 yards and two touchdowns. The Tigers finished the game 10-for-20 on third down and 4-for-5 on fourth down. They won the time of possession battle 43:10 to 16:50.

Missouri finished the game with 92 plays, Kentucky finished with just 36. That’s not normal. In fact, Kentucky’s 36 plays are the fewest by an SEC team in the last two decades.

That wasn’t the same game script for how Missouri beat LSU. In fact, it was more or less the opposite. The Tigers got in a shootout with LSU and beat them that way. They got in a rock fight with Kentucky and beat the heck out of them.

Having the ability to win in multiple ways is the sign of a good team. And right now, that’s exactly what Missouri is: a pretty darn good team.

2) Larry Rountree set the tone

Larry Rountree III is now the third leading rusher in the program history, and what a game to move into third place it was. That was the classic Rountree game. Nothing about it was pretty. He finished with 37 carries for 126 yards and two touchdowns. That’s only 3.4 yards per carry. The box score doesn’t shout dominance.

But the game itself did.

Rountree pounded the rock all day long. Late in the fourth quarter, he seemed to give the coaching staff a hand signal to keep pounding the rock. That they did.

It’s been refreshing to see Rountree return to form this year. Drinkwitz has entrusted him as the bell cow back. He’s up to 87 carries in the Tigers’ opening four games of the season.

Late in the game we saw why he’s so important for this team. His running style resonates with his teammates. On what would eventually be MU’s final scoring drive of the game, Rountree ran over Kentucky cornerback Kelvin Joseph on his way to the sideline. The sideline erupted in celebration.

That might seem like a small thing. It’s not. That play is a microcosm of what Rountree means to his teammates.

3) Mizzou’s defense will be the underrated storyline of the game

Mizzou’s offense deserves all the praise they’re going to get after that win, but let’s not lose sight of what the defense did. They completely shut down what has been a solid running game this season.

Kentucky ran for 187 yards on 45 carries against Tennessee, 84 yards on 32 carries against Mississippi State and 408 yards on 56 carries against Ole Miss.

The Wildcats finished with just 98 rushing yards on 23 carries against Missouri. They were never able to get anything going on the ground, and the passing game was somehow even worse.

Kentucky finished with just 47 yards through the air. That’s the fewest passing yards against Missouri since kansas finished with 45 passing yards against the Tigers in 2010.

The driving force behind the success was, once again, Nick Bolton. He was all over the place. He finished the game with seven solo tackles, the Tigers’ only sack of the game, a tackle-for-loss and a QB hurry.

I wondered going into the year whether or not Bolton would be able to pick up where he left off a year ago and if he did, what that would mean for his legacy at Missouri. He’s done exactly that. What does it mean? He’s probably going to be a top 50 pick in next year’s NFL Draft and he will probably go down as one of Missouri’s two best linebackers of the last two decades.

4) That was a measuring stick game for Connor Bazelak, and he passed the test with flying colors

That Kentucky defense is legit. It scored more points than it allowed the last two weeks against Tennessee and Mississippi State. That defense takes advantage of the mistakes opposing quarterbacks make. The Wildcats came into the game allowing just six yards per attempt and quarterbacks had thrown seven touchdowns and nine interceptions against them.

They’re difficult to pass against because they rarely blitz, they’re incredibly disciplined in their zones and they attack the ball when it’s in the air.

Bazelak didn’t put up the same kind of glamorous numbers he did against LSU. He didn’t have to. That wasn’t the plan for this game. He was judicious with his decision-making, he ran for the first down when necessary and he came up with enough big plays through the air to move the chains when he had to.

He finished the game 21-for-30 for 200 yards. The more important number? Zero interceptions. He protected the football. The Tigers finished the game with zero turnovers as a team. Playing a clean game like that against Kentucky is how you give yourself a chance to win.

Bazelak didn’t have a perfect game, but he was pretty darn good. That’s what you needed from him in this one. If you had any lingering questions after the LSU game, those should be answered now. He’s legit. And he’s the Tigers’ starting quarterback for years to come.

5) Beating LSU was exciting, but beating Kentucky is even more important

Nate Edwards said it really well on the ‘Before the Box Score’ podcast this week; playing Kentucky will tell you more about your team than it will about Kentucky. The Wildcats basically put up a mirror and say, ‘this is who you are as a program.’ If you’re a good team, you tend to beat Kentucky. If you’re a below-average team, you tend to lose against Kentucky.

For the last five years, Missouri has fallen into the latter category. The Tigers finally feel like they’re out from the abyss.

This was gut-check week for the Tigers. You were able to pull off the upset. Great. Can you do it again? Missouri was able to. This coaching staff and the players deserve a ton of credit for that. It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world. No game against Kentucky is. But the Tigers just dominated for sixty minutes in their first appearance back on the field since pulling off the team’s biggest upset in years. That’s a heck of a follow-up performance.

The reward is a meeting down in The Swamp next week against Florida. We have plenty of time to talk about that matchup. It’s going to be tough.

For now, celebrate the victory. This one is pretty sweet.