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Kentucky’s devastating rushing attack pounds Missouri in pivotal East showdown

The Wildcats ran for over 340 yards and controlled the pace of the game en route to a key conference victory.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri has struggled immensely against Kentucky since joining the SEC. UK won five straight from 2014-2019, and they consistently win close games over the Tigers.

In 2020, Missouri had 225 rushing yards compared to Kentucky’s 95, leading to a 20-10 win that stopped that streak. This time around, the script was flipped.

The game opened with a Kentucky jet sweep that brought the Cats down inside the Missouri 10-yard line. Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson was totting the rock and glided past the Missouri defense. Kentucky converted on a dump-off pass to running back Chris Rodriguez to put UK up 7-0. It was a first drive that saw little resistance from the Tiger defense after the explosive play, and it took just over two minutes.

Missouri responded with four straight Connor Bazelak completions, but were stopped around midfield and forced to punt.

The Wildcats mounted a drive aided by a Mizzou facemask penalty in response. Isaiah McGuire secured his second sack of the season when the Cats began to threaten, but another penalty, this time a pass interference call, allowed Kentucky to again punch it in to extend the lead to 14-0.

Chris Rodriguez shell-shocked the Tigers early on, as he emerged from Kentucky’s stable of backs to run for a touchdown and catch one.

A bit of trickery managed to spark the Missouri offense, as Tyler Badie took a double-fake screen pass into Kentucky territory on the ensuing drive. A pass interference call and some more tough running from Badie — and no, you aren’t reading this wrong — Connor Bazelak on a third down got the Tigers into goal-to-go territory. Bazelak proceeded to deliver a strike to Daniel Parker, Jr. on third and goal to cut the Kentucky lead in half.

It was the Tigers’ first points in the first quarter against Kentucky in five years, and it was Parker’s first touchdown in three years.

Missouri stole the ball right back thanks to a Jaylon Charlies interception (his second of the year), but they moved nowhere and had to punt and pin Kentucky inside the 10-yard line.

Chris Rodriguez just continued to pound the Missouri defense, as the Wildcat offensive line was getting plenty of push. Wan’Dale Robinson continued to be an issue as well, as he got open for a 49-yard completion to move the Cats into the redzone again. Kentucky quarterback Will Levis strolled into the end zone on second and goal to stretch the lead back out to 14.

Mookie Cooper had his best offensive play of the year, a 3rd down conversion for over 15 yards that halted the momentum. Still, the Tigers stalled out and were forced to punt again.

Chris Rodriguez and KaVosiey Smoke continued to expose the Missouri defensive line, and Will Levis added some emphasis with his scrambling ability. The Wildcats ran the ball thirteen straight times, but Rodriguez coughed the ball up after a big hit from Carlies in the end zone and bailed Missouri out from falling behind by 21.

Connor Bazelak got into a rhythm on the next drive and connected with Badie a couple times to get into scoring range. Then, Keke Chism fought off a Kentucky defensive back that was holding on for dear life to score with four seconds remaining in the half. A pivotal half-ending drive for the Tigers that saw Bazelak take over and will this team back into the game going into the halftime break.

The Wildcats had over 210 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground in the first half, completely flipping the script from last season’s matchup. They dominated the time of possession and controlled the first half. Still, that fumble forced by Carlies and the ensuing drive from the Missouri offense completely changed the narrative and silenced a raucous crowd in Lexington.

However, Bazelak was picked off on the opening drive of the second half by Kentucky linebacker Jacquez Jones, placing the Cats in Mizzou territory.

Chris Rodriguez reeled off a 20-yard run and put a Tiger defender on his back to get inside the 5, and he proceeded to punch it in right after. Within two minutes of play in the second half, Kentucky had secured an interception and extended the lead back to 14.

Connor Bazelak responded with six completions on the ensuing drive, capped off by a shovel pass to Daniel Parker, Jr that again cut the lead to one score.

Kentucky went 3-and-out on their next drive, as they got consistent pressure on Levis to swing the momentum back in Missouri’s favor.

They were forced to punt the ball right back, but the Tiger defense stood tall and got the ball back in Bazelak’s hands.

He led his team down the field en route to converting a 3rd and 15 on a Tyler Badie screen pass that went for a touchdown. It was a balanced drive that saw Bazelak and Badie take control.

However, the trends of the game continued. Chris Rodriguez broke off another chunk run that propelled the Cats into Missouri territory. The Kentucky play-calling stayed one step ahead of the Tigers, and Rodriguez virtually walked into the end zone to cap off another long scoring drive.

The Tigers got to midfield on the next drive but were stuffed on a 3rd and 1, and Chris Rodriguez went to work again. The Cats converted a pivotal 3rd and 12 with a deep ball from Levis to, yet again, Wan’Dale Robinson.

The Wildcats then proceeded to wear down the Tiger defensive line, draining the clock and setting up a game-clinching field goal. Miraculously, the Tigers blocked the field goal and returned it to the 40-yard line.

Bazelak moved the ball well but was sacked on a third down to force a 4th and long. That ended in an incompletion, and Kentucky sealed the game on the following drive.

Some of the same issues from last week persisted. The Tiger run defense was gashed all game long for 343 rushing yards, and the movement up front was always going against the Missouri defensive line. The Missouri defense appeared to be on its heels for most of the game, and the offense could not keep pace.

“It was people just not executing, not being in their right gaps with gap integrity,” safety and captain Martez Manuel explained when asked about the run defense struggles.

Still, the offense was balanced and efficient, and key plays from defensive players such as Carlies kept Missouri in the game. Shoring up the front seven is the key for this team at this point in the season.

Eli Drinkwitz would like to remind everyone to not overreact to this outcome.

“I’m proud of my football team. Really proud. They fought their butt off in a hostile enviornment, blocked a field goal to stay in it. There is no reason to hang our heads, or jump on Twitter. It’s week two at night in the SEC, and I saw a bunch of fighters in the locker room.”

The Tigers fall to 1-1 and 0-1 in SEC play, and will move on to play Southeast Missouri State next Saturday at Faurot Field.