Hello again, Kentucky.
Remember last year? That was cool. This year will not come close to replicating that style of game, however.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard, or seen, what Kentucky did to Louisiana-Monroe in the first game of their season. I’m sure you’ve also heard that the Warhawks are one of the worst teams in the country and that you can’t really learn anything from that game in particular. There’s certainly some truth to that, and Missouri - warts and all - is a much different beast than anything Monroe could throw at the Cats. But there are some goals that Missouri should strive to hit in an attempt to get their first win in Lexington since Dorial Green-Beckham went ham on their asses in 2013.
Here’s the offseason preview for Kentucky. Since writing that, Will Levis indeed rode that favorite-son status of OC Liam Coen into the starting quarterback position, and it looks like the Wildcats are willing to throw it much more than any other Stoops team of the past. Coach Drinkwitz said earlier this week that they added NFL receivers and an NFL passing game, and while some of that is lip service, they certainly look like a much more dangerous team than we’re used to. And Missouri lost to those less-dangerous teams on a frequent basis in the past. So here’s what Missouri needs to do:
When Missouri Has the Ball
One thing you’re going to notice when looking at these depth charts is the age of the Wildcat starters: they’re almost all seniors. Ten senior starters on defense, five senior starters on offense, and only one freshman starter— the punter. Missouri, meanwhile, has only five senior starters to go with only a handful of juniors. The point is, Kentucky is experienced, and they’re also talented as they are really good at reeling in blue chip defenders on the recruiting trail. Not great!
Find efficiency in the passing game
Based off of the one game we saw, I don’t have any confidence in this offensive line keeping the Wildcat pass rushers off of Bazelak for an extended period of time. I anticipate the Tigers using quick-hitting passing routes, screens, and dump-off passes to Badie to try and slow down the pass rush to open up deeper shots later in the game. This requires the short passing game to work, mind you, and last week’s performance saw only a 38% success rate throwing the ball. If the Tigers can maintain at least a 42% success rate through the air that would show some efficiency that can be utilized to move the ball against a defensive front that is always excellent against the run.
Don’t suck out loud on 3rd down
Needless to say, if Mizzou pulls another 1-11 3rd-down conversion rate against Kentucky they’re going to be absolutely demolished. The Tigers were cooking on 1st and 2nd down last week but if they were knocked off schedule they had a tough time catching back up unless Badie broke a big play. The receivers are going to have to step up - as mentioned in the previous item - to take pressure off the running game and vary the attack enough to keep Kentucky on its toes. Let’s shoot for a 40% 3rd-down conversion rate; it’s not great but it should keep the offense on the field longer enough to help tilt the field and create scoring opportunities.
Finish your dang drives
Ok. Maybe 5-points per opportunity is asking too much from this team at this point. I’ll admit I might be pushing them here. The median points per opportunity last year was 4.5-points per opportunity. So let’s shoot for 4.5.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
So these are the guys who lead the SEC in offense. Will Levis is 3rd in the conference in passing yards behind Matt Corral of Ole Miss and Will Rogers of Mississippi State. Chris Rodriguez is 4th in the conference in rushing yards (of course, Tyler Badie is first). Josh Ali and Wan’Dale Robinson are 3rd and 5th in the conference in receiving yards, respectively. They are experienced, they are good, and they are very confident they can do to Missouri what the did to Monroe. Here’s how that changes:
Make the pass inefficient
While Kentucky’s starters were in the game, here’s how their drives ended with the number of plays cited as well:
- Interception - 3 plays
- Touchdown - 5 plays
- Touchdown - 1 play
- Touchdown - 14 plays
- Fumble - 2 plays
- Touchdown - 4 plays
- Punt - 5 plays
- End of half - 2 plays
- Punt - 3 plays
- Field Goal - 7 plays
- Touchdown - 9 plays
Whether it was good or bad, Kentucky’s first team was getting off the field fast. And outside of a run-oriented drive in the 2nd quarter, most of their drives were over in five plays or less since they were frequently connecting on deep bombs. What happens when they have consecutive 3-and-outs? Or they have to sustain a drive against an SEC defense? I don’t have the answer but it’s worth pointing out. Outside of eight disastrous plays Missouri’s run defense was good and they locked down the CMU passing game after those first two drives. If the Tigers can make the Wildcat passing game an inefficient choice and make them matriculate down the field I’d feel better about the defense’s chances of getting a stop and giving our offense a chance to counter. I want them to keep Kentucky’s passing success rate to under 40% (or less).
If you can’t hang with an offense you might as well try to consistently blow them up. Missouri’s pressure against Central Michigan eventually broke the Chippewa offense, giving up 14 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 6 passes broken up, and 2 interceptions. Our one game of Blaze Alldredge tells us that he is a Viking on the field: all gas, no brakes, blow something up or get blown up. So...unleash the Viking! Get aggressive on passing routes! Send exotic blitzes! Basically send anything weird that Kentucky didn’t see last week to confuse and slow down what seems to be a very good offense. Last week’s havoc rate for Missouri’s defense was 38.9%; let’s try and get that to 45% for maximum disruption.
Let me say something unpopular: the current iteration of the Kentucky Wildcat football program is what Missouri is building towards. Consistent, salty, plays to an identity, develops 3-star guys into 4-star talents, can also nab blue-chippers and get them into the NFL. That’s what we should all want. I will say, though, that I think Kentucky is hitting its ceiling under Mark Stoops and that where they are right now is as good as they are going to get. I don’t know if Missouri’s ceiling is the same - I think they can exceed that, frankly, because they have done so in the past eight years - but that level of program is the next checkpoint for Coach Drinkwitz and his staff.
So it would be really nice to beat these guys to show that the Tigers are on pace to reach those heights. It would also be nice to create a winning streak against the team that shoved Missouri into a locker and took its lunch money for five straight years. I don’t think a win happens this time but this is not an unbeatable team that has unsurmountable goals required to beat them. Take care of business, win the little things, get the W. M-I-Z