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Penalties, offensive lapses plague Mizzou in another close SEC loss

A roughing the punter call proved to be the nail in the coffin for the Tigers as they fell to Kentucky 21-17.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou looked to extend its winning streak to 3-games when they played host to Kentucky, who many Tiger players describe as this team’s biggest rival. That’s fair to say when the ‘Cats lead the series 8-4 all-time, including seven games that were decided by ten points or less. All you have to do is look at the 2018 heartbreaker, the 2017 shootout, or the 2021 back-and-forth affair to see how physical and close these meetings have been.

With both of these teams facing a crossroads in their season, this game was all the more important for SEC East standings and bowl hopes.

This game had an odd start. After a Mizzou three-and-out, Kentucky drove down the field and scored a touchdown on a Will Levis 9-yard touchdown pass to Dane Key.

Will Levis completed three passes to convert third downs to start this game, and he overall had a nice bounce-back performance from some recent struggles. He finished the day with 160 yards and three touchdowns on 12/18 passing.

“You never want to play from behind, so we have to find a way to start fast,” Cody Schrader said.

Mizzou’s offense responded, but in unconventional fashion. After some chunk runs from Cody Schrader (65 rushing yards on the day), Harrison Mevis lined up to take a 49-yard field goal. He missed, but the Wildcats had too many players on the field. His re-take from 44-yards went through the uprights, making the score 7-3 with 5:17 left in the first quarter.

The first quarter concluded with a scuffle on the Kentucky sideline. After Trajan Jeffcoat pushed Levis out-of-bounds, Kentucky players surrounded him. When Mizzou players attempted to get him out of there, some shoving ensued. In the end, only the Tigers were penalized.

To further continue the sloppy play, on the next Tiger drive, Brady Cook lost the ball on a scramble in Mizzou territory. His butterfingers appeared to cost the Tigers some points, but the Wildcats were about 5-yards short on their 47-yard field goal attempt right after.

Mizzou’s offense ended the half by being stuffed on a QB sneak on a fourth-and-1 in Kentucky territory. However, the defense picked up their 4th sack (ended with 6) of the first half on Kentucky’s next drive, forcing them to punt and end the half.

The weather and tense emotions may have played a factor, but this was a sloppy half of football overall...

...and it continued in the second. After getting a defensive stop on Kentucky’s opening drive, Mizzou was forced to punt. Jack Stonehouse dropped the snap, and attempted to run for the first down. He was stopped a yard short, setting the Wildcats up at the Tiger 34-yard line.

Behind some tough running from Chris Rodriguez (112 yards), Kentucky converted the turnover into another touchdown, making it 14-3 in favor of UK with 5:47 left in the third quarter.

After some back-and-forth punting, Cook mounted a drive after completing a ball for 15-yards to Mekhi Miller. Cook took some shots on that play and was noticeably in some pain afterwards, but he finished the drive off with a keeper on 4th and goal to score.

Cook missed Barrett Banister on the 2-point conversion, making it 14-9 Kentucky with 13:09 left in the game.

On the next drive, Cook found Luther Burden downfield for a 35-yard completion on a crossing pattern. He then followed that up with a 20-yard touchdown run highlighted by a spin move to get into the end zone. The much-maligned quarterback responded to a rough first half with two straight scoring drives to give Mizzou the lead.

Cook completed a two-point conversion to Tauskie Dove, making the score read 17-14 in favor of the Tigers with 8:07 left to play.

Levis responded with a scoring drive of his own. On third-and-11 from the 22-yard line, he found Key for a touchdown, their second scoring connection of the night. The ‘Cats led 21-17 with 5:18 left in the game.

The Tiger defense got a needed stop when Kentucky got the ball back, but then disaster struck.

A punt went over UK punter Colin Goodfellow’s head, and Will Norris hit him as he kicked the ball 20-yards forward. Norris was penalized for roughing the kicker, awarding Kentucky a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

“The ball was snapped over his head, and that he was still in the tackle box when he kicked the ball,” coach Eliah Drinkwitz said. “How a guy is protected 50-yards downfield, and how our guy is supposed to know to not hit him is beyond me.”

Mizzou got the ball back with 38 seconds left to go 87 yards, but a holding call prevented them from advancing anywhere.

Kentucky left Columbia with a win by a score of 21-17.

The Tigers converted their first first-down of the game halfway through the third quarter. They had 309 total yards of offense, had only 12 first downs, and averaged a meager 2.6 yards per rush. That about sums up a rough day offensively for the Tigers.

Despite all of that, Cook did not give in to the “boos” and negativity of another rough performance. He fought through some bumps and bruises to lead this team on multiple scoring drives late in the game, proving that his toughness can not be something that is questioned.

“That kid is one of the toughest kids I’ve been around,” Schrader said. “He’s taken hits since game one that most quarterbacks wouldn’t get up from.”

While some questionable officiating can be looked at in this game, Mizzou still found another unique way to lose a game. Close losses again appear to be the defining mark of this season.

“We didn’t make the plays to win the game, offensively we were 2/13 on third down and defensively they converted multiple third downs, including that winning touchdown,” Drinkwitz said.

The Tigers will venture to Knoxville to take on Tennessee (8-0) next Saturday at 11:00 a.m. CST. The game will be televised on either ESPN or CBS.