It’s game week, and it’s a pivotal one for Week 2. The Missouri Tigers open up SEC play on the road against the Kentucky Wildcats at 6:30 p.m. CST Saturday night on the SEC Network. This is just one of two Power Five conference games on the College Football schedule this weekend, along with Stanford and USC.
Since Mizzou joined the SEC, the winner of this game has finished better in the SEC East standings every year. After snapping their five-game losing streak against Kentucky last season, Mizzou will be looking for their first win in Lexington since 2013, and their first 2-0 start since 2018. Yeah, there’s a whole lot on the line in this one.
To break it down, I previewed the game with James Streble over at Kentucky’s A Sea of Blue.
Here’s the Q and A to get you ready and notified for the match up:
Sammy Stava: Will Levis went 18/26 for 367 yards throwing four touchdown passes in his Kentucky debut. Even though it’s a small sample size and it was against a bad Louisiana-Monroe team, what were your first impressions of Levis as a Wildcat?
James Streble: Will Levis had a command of the offense and a presence on the field that we haven’t seen around here since Andre Woodson. The guy just “looked” the part and that was enough to get BBN excited. But when he threw the ball with a velocity that could be his ticket to the NFL, then we were sold. The opponent’s lack of talent matters, of course, but you can’t fake arm-strength, leadership and talent. He has all of those things.
SS: Wan’Dale Robinson also had a big day, with five receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns. What’s the biggest thing that the Nebraska transfer Robinson brings to this offense?
JS: Robinson brings a dymic athleticism coupled with burning speed. He can be utilized in multiple positions all over the field. He is Lynn Bowden with more speed and a better route running ability. Wan’Dale is a true jack-of-all-trades and he is a receiver that creates separation. Defenses have to account for him at all times and that frees up other receivers like Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps. Will Levis has some very good weapons to work with and it all starts with Wa’n Dale Robinson.
SS: In your opinion, what do you think are the biggest trengths and weaknesses (in terms of position groups) are for this Kentucky team early in the season?
JS: The offensive line is the one I have to begin with as a strength. Darian Kinnard is a second to maybe third round draft pick and a consensus preseason All-American at right tackle for the ‘Cats. Dare Rosenthal came over from LSU as a transfer and it was known immediately that Kentucky had their left tackle. Luke Fortner is a veteran starting guard that was converted to center and received co-SEC Lineman of the Week in his first game. The guards need some work but with an offensive line, that cohesion comes with more games played. Kentucky has one of the best offensive lines in the SEC, if not the country.
The linebacking core is talented but it isn’t deep. JJ Weaver is coming off of an injury and was on a pitch count on Saturday but still had two sacks. DeAndre Square, Josh Paschal (more of an edge rusher) and Jordan Wright are also all guys that play at a high level. But the backups are young and unknown for the most part. Freshman Trevin Wallace was a big time recruit for Kentucky but he still has a long way to go. The Cats also picked up Jaquez Jones from Ole Miss in the transfer portal but he was limited on Saturday with some injury issues.
SS: Kentucky was picked to finish third in the SEC East from the media preseason poll behind Georgia and Florida. Do you think it’s more likely that the Wildcats can exceed that expectation and finish ahead of Florida, or underwhelm this season and finish in the bottom half of the division?
JS: I think they are more likely to exceed expectations as I watched the SEC perform on Saturday. Teams have a lot of work to do outside of Georgia and Alabama. Florida has a lot of unanswered questions all over the field including quarterback. Kentucky plays LSU and I feel like Ed Orgeron is on the brink of losing that team. South Carolina isn’t good. Vanderbilt was destroyed by an FCS team. Tennessee is just trying to keep their head above water. And Mississippi State looked as bad as they did last season.
Honestly, this is why the game on Saturday between Missouri and Kentucky is such a big deal in week 2. I feel like both of these teams are similar in regards to talent and projection. Whichever team wins is in prime position for that second spot in the East. It’s perhaps the biggest game of the season for both teams and can really set the tone going forward.
SS: How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Do you have a final score prediction?
JS: If what we saw offensively from Kentucky is real and not just a product of ULM being terrible, then I really like Kentucky here. The line play both offensively and defensively for Kentucky is outstanding. The secondary is full of veterans. Chris Rodriguez picked up right where he left off last season with another game over 100 yards rushing. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry last season and had 6.6 yards per carry Saturday.
If Will Levis and the receivers can put pressure on what looks to be a defense that is a work in progress for the Tigers, then I think Kentucky wins by a decent margin. Kentucky’s defense looks to be as stout as ever and Mark Stoops really took last season’s loss to heart. I think he and coach Drinkwitz have a great mutual respect and both guys will have their teams ready to go on Saturday.
UK 27-Mizzou 20