♫ I’m So Sophisticated ♫
Not much to see here... and I say that in a good way!
The black-on-gold combination never fails, and it’s especially refreshing after so many unique combinations throughout the season. I’ve been a proponent of the script helmets, Sailor Tiger and especially the Block M, but I don’t mind the oval tiger when it’s paired with something classic. And this is about as classic as it gets. This look also really benefits from the bold striping the program introduced a few years ago.
What’s On Tap?
There’s no need to overthink this one. Kentucky is Bourbon Country, bourbon is delicious and delicious things are good.
But while we could go with a straight pour of something tasty, maybe that’s not your style! Maybe you need a little sweet to counteract the spice. Considering this week’s game seems destined to be a rock fight like the football days of yore, let’s stick with the theme and make an Old Fashioned. Pretty simple recipe that you can find anywhere and adapt to your liking. This is one I adapted from A Couple Cooks, where I removed the cocktail cherry and adjusted the bitters and water.
1 sugar cube (1 teaspoon sugar)
3 dashes Angostura bitters
Splash of water
2 ounces bourbon
Large ice cube, for serving
Place the sugar cube in a lowball glass and add the bitters. Add the water and mash and swirl it with a muddler or wooden spoon until the sugar is mostly dissolved.
Add the whiskey and swirl to combine. Add a large ice cube.
Use a knife to remove a 1″ wide strip of the orange peel. Squeeze the orange peel into the drink to release the oils. Gently run the peel around the edge of the glass, then place it in the glass. If desired, garnish with a cocktail cherry for additional sweetness.
Know Thy Enemy
You know how we’re always saying that Missouri is playing worse or better versions of themselves? Well, we’re not breaking from the talking points this week. That’s right, folks: Kentucky is a better version of Missouri. Elite defense. Struggling offense with a poor offensive line. Explosive pass attack. In order for Missouri to win, they’ll have to both beat and not beat themselves.
On offense, Missouri will be facing the country’s ninth most efficient defense and one hell of a defensive line. That may sound like trouble for the Tigers, and that’s because it is. However, all the grinding that you see on Saturday may lead to some cathartic moments.
The Wildcats rank 48th in defensive explosive plays, including 92nd against rushing explosive plays. However, they are 29th in limiting explosive plays through the air so Cody Schrader is going to have to find some daylight and hit it quick. As viewers this is going to be a very frustrating time watching plays get stuffed or passes get swatted away, but just realize it’s all in hopes of connecting on some haymakers.
That may not be good news for the Tigers, but perhaps they figured something out against South Carolina?
On defense, Missouri will benefit from playing a poor offensive line and a struggling QB who may or may not be missing his star running back. But they’ve got real NFL talent on that side of the ball, and the pass game shows it off.
The Wildcats are fairly bad at executing in standard down situations (87th) but come alive in passing down situations (50th). Why? Because that’s when they allow themselves to throw the ball and hope that their 15th-best passing explosiveness rate kicks in to gain big yards or score. There will be big plays occurring, that’s just how Missouri’s defense works, but the hope would be to keep Kentucky under 7 explosive plays.
As Nate noted in his preview, this could end up like one or two types of boxing match. Either we’re in for a very technical snooze-fest where both teams keep plugging away until they finally break through. Or we could see a few haymakers landed, making for some dramatic moments in Columbia. Buckle up!
If Mizzou was looking for a spark to ignite their bowl hopes, last week’s upset over South Carolina might’ve been it. What impressed you most about the Tigers’ effort in Columbia Least?
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: Yes, the defense continues to be the most impressive part of this team. But it was hard not to be pleasantly surprised by the offense’s sudden kick of inspiration. Maybe Drinkwitz pushed the right buttons with his various personnel changes, but everything seemed to be clicking... at least for a little while. Brady Cook looked more confident, the offensive line looked stable, the play-calling felt more lively... hell, everything felt better! I’m not sure if they can keep it up consistently, but we can now be sure that they’re capable of being a sufficient partner to their defensive compatriots.
Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: I mean, it’s rare that you see a defensive line be that dominant in a game, but for the sake of originality, I’ll go with the offensive line. That was likely their best performance of the season, as Cody Schrader had some great holes to run through and Brady Cook was rarely pressured. Also, penalties were not as much of an issue as they had been in recent weeks. The Gamecocks had a solid defensive front coming into the game, so maybe this is a sign that the O-line is finally beginning to mesh.
Dan Keegan, Football Contributor: I was pleased with Eli Drinkwitz’s willingness to experiment, and it worked with the best offensive performance against a Power Five team so far. Drink scrapped some of the outside zone and stretch runs that have been his favorite rushes and leaned on quick-hitters with Cody Schrader. Running the ball isn’t inherently conservative: Drinkwitz aggressively attacked the South Carolina rush defense in an area where he felt he had an advantage, and shelved his favorite plays (and by extension, Nathaniel Peat) when they weren’t working.
For all of the hand wringing about Missouri’s disappointing season, the Tigers are tied for third in the SEC East with bowl eligibility very much in reach. Are we looking at a late season ascendancy for the Tigers, or do you still have doubts about their ability to hold up against the schedule?
Josh Matejka: It’ll take another “upset” win to be sure, but the trajectory is pointing up. The Tigers seemed to be figuring some things out before the bye week, and the players spent most of that time talking about how close a breakthrough was. Vanderbilt felt like a setback, but maybe there was some rust to be knocked off. Regardless, Missouri has won two in a row and feels like a unit that’s getting more cohesive with each passing week.
Parker Gillam: This is literally the same script as last season. Early season struggles due to some key areas, then the staff adjusts, and then they thrive down the stretch. I definitely think they can beat one of either Kentucky or Arkansas, and that’s all this team needs to clinch a bowl berth (essentially). As long as Cook and the O-line continue to take steps forward, then this team will end the year lightyears better than they started, building up some hype for a bigger 2023 campaign.
Dan Keegan: Oh, absolutely. I think both this game and Arkansas are winnable, although the Tigers do match up better with their fellow feline foes than they do against the high-flying Pigs. This defense is legitimately excellent; not just “good for Mizzou” excellent, but “one of the best in CFB” excellent. In addition, for the third year in a row, Drinkwitz’s teams have shown incredible fight and togetherness in the second half of the season. I think there’s still a lot to nitpick in small things, but some of the big-picture elements, like recruiting, generating excitement, and running a locker room are all passing grades with flying colors.
Kentucky has spent a considerable amount of time ranked in the Top 25 this year and even reached the Top 10 at one point. Now, they’re struggling with Mizzou in the middle of the standings. From your perspective, what’s gone wrong in Lexington?
Josh Matejka: Someone ask Mel Kiper if Will Levis is still the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Because for all of the hype that surrounded Kentucky’s QB, he’s been pretty ordinary this season. His battle with some nagging injuries hasn’t helped, but the Wildcats were looking to him to take the next step and, in turn, elevate their offense. He hasn’t done that to this point, and the Wildcats have been worse off for it.
That being said, it’s hard to say the sky is falling in the bluegrass state. Kentucky is still 5-3 and has three very winnable games left on its schedule. After this weekend’s tilt in Columbia, they get a three-game home stand against Vanderbilt, Georgia and Louisville. It’s very reasonable to think they finish the regular season at 8-4, which would be a bit of a pipe dream for Missouri at this point. Kentucky may be down, but I’d be hesitant to count them out.
Parker Gillam: Kentucky wants to be a physical, run-first team. While they have had some levels of success with that, it has not been to the standard that they usually like. That has hurt the entire offensive scheme, and I think that, while everybody focuses on Levis’ struggles, that is the biggest issue for this team.
Levis should be playing better, outside of his injuries there isn’t much of a reason why he’s playing this poorly, but this team always starts with the run game. The defense can keep them in every game, but they’ve got to run the ball better and with more consistency, because Levis has proven he can’t just beat teams with his arm.
Dan Keegan: It’s pretty simple; just like Mizzou, the Kentucky offensive line has regressed horribly. The “Big Blue Wall” has been among the best in the SEC in recent years, and in 2022 the Wildcats have been whipped in the trench. They have also been bitten hard by the injury bug, which has affected Will Levis’ play but has also challenged their excellent wide receiver and linebacker rooms as well.
PICK ‘EM! We’re in toss-up territory, with the lines having moved to Kentucky as a 1.5 point favorite on the road. Can Missouri continue their upward trajectory? If so, who will play a key role?
Josh Matejka: The line is moving in Missouri’s direction, which suggests Vegas thinks we’re in for a thrill ride on Saturday. Both Missouri and Kentucky have stout defensive units, and both offensive groups are a bit of a mess this season. It would appear we’re in for a rock fight, which is no surprise given the history of this “rivalry.” However, I need to put my money where my mouth is. Last week, I said I’d need to see Missouri beat a better team before I started picking them to win these types of games... and they did just that. Kentucky may be the more complete team, but I think Missouri runs its win streak to three with a 20-17 squeaker against the Wildcats. Brady Cook won’t need to be flashy, but he’ll need to take care of the ball, which he did against the Gamecocks.
Parker Gillam: This is going to be a Tiger win. It’s going to be another low-scoring, gritty game between these two, and expect both of these defenses to be the stars of the show. However, I really think Mizzou is lining up for a late-season rally, and I think this is the next step in that. Cook and his receivers will make just enough plays for them to win, and if the Tiger defense can limit Chris Rodriguez, then UK won’t eclipse the 20-point mark.
Another point. At every press conference this week, the older guys have talked so much about how this is a rivalry game for them. UK has been a thorn in the side of Mizzou since they joined the conference, with multiple heartbreakingly close defeats. This team has had this game circled on their calendar for a while. Mizzou wins 24-17, with the emerging star Cody Schrader leading the way.
Dan Keegan: I’m calling another Missouri win. Missouri just dominated a similar South Carolina offense — struggling offensive line, one excellent running back, and an inconsistent but big-armed quarterback. They dominated that team, and now get to face this version in the friendly confines of Faurot Field. I’m worried about the offense carrying over against a far tougher defense than South Carolina’s accommodating unit, but I think Drink’s new running scheme and the continued development of Brady Cook will be enough to provide the final margin. Give me a 17-13 Missouri win.