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Mizzou's defense gave up too many big plays vs Kentucky

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Kentucky had six plays go for 20 yards or more, for a total of 163 yards passing up the middle of Mizzou's defense

Explosive Passes

Let's start with the sheer number of long plays Mizzou gave up in the passing game.

Before the Kentucky game, Barry Odom's defense was one of three teams nationally that had yet to surrender a 30+ yard play. Against Kentucky they gave up passing plays of 48, 24, 28, 28, 24, 35, 25, and 24 yards.That's seven 20+ yard gains not even counting the 48 yard sideline bomb in the first quarter that was negated by a holding/unsportsmanlike combo penalty that pushed them back to a first and 29 on their own 10 yard line. And Kentucky still scored on that drive.

Kentucky had half (3) as many receivers average 10+ yards per catch as Mizzou, had a slightly lower average yards per catch over all (11.3 vs 12.6), only 22 more yards passing overall and only one more receiving touchdown.

REC YDS AVG TD LONG
Garrett Johnson 6 119 19.8 0 35
C.J. Conrad 3 55 18.3 1 28
Dorian Baker 5 51 10.2 1 25

Second drive: Kentucky ties 7-7

1st and 10 at UK 29 Mizzou lined up in what has become their standard 4-3 alignment and Aarion Penton came on the delayed corner blitz. On the play side, Kenya Dennis gave an 8 yard cushion to WR Dorian Baker, shaded him inside and bit on the inside hip fake when Baker cut his route to the corner. Patrick Towles is looking at Baker the whole way here and Baker hauls in a massive 48 yard bomb that was thankfully negated by a holding penalty and compounded by a personal foul. Remember, this is the play that didn't count!

2nd and 18 a UK 21 Mizzou lines up in a 4-3 and shows A-gap pressure from the MLB Michael Scherer, both sets of DE/DTs twist in an effort to free up a blitzer on Patrick Towles but he already knows where he's going with the ball and the pass is out in less than 3 seconds, completed to the slot receiver Garrett Johnson who cuts in front of Clarence Green and finds the hole in the middle of the underneath coverage and picks up Kentucky's first chunk play on a 28 yard completion.

1st and 10 at UK 49 As if that wan't bad enough, Kentucky came back and hit Garrett Johnson again the very next play for a 24 yard chunk play. This time Mizzou brought Clarence Green of the edge to free up Nate Howard's pressure on Patrick Towles but Johnson's inside release lost Ian Simon covering him in the slot and Kentrell Brothers couldn't get back fast enough to cover the middle of the field.

Kentucky would end up tying the game on a weaving Patrick Towles run at the start of the second quarter.

3rd and 2 at UK 12 Kentucky failed to score on it's third drive but still found success over the middle against Mizzou's defense. The defensive line was unable to apply any pressure. Kentucky TE C.J. Conrad releases off the line straight up the middle and Towles threads a nice pass over the fingers of MLB Michael Scherer into the soft spot of Mizzou's cover 2 defense.

HALFTIME

Aarion Penton told the media during Monday's media session that Kentucky picked up on their cover 2 calls

Kenya Dennis confirmed it

It seemed like Mizzou fixed the problem coming out of half time as Mizzou's defense forced back to back punts. But then on third drive of second half, things got stupid.

The Phantom PI

3rd and 9 at UK 42

Pete noted during the game that the ref dropped his flag and couldn't find it at first, a Kentucky coach/staffer picked it up for him. Penton was asked about the call during Monday's media session and had this to say:

Second Touchdown 14-10

1st and goal at MIZ 24 Mizzou only rushes three, dropping DE Walter Brady into the left flat but the play action fake by Kentucky sucks MLB Michael Scherer in just enough that Towles is able to find TE C.J. Conrad for a 24 yard touchdown pass through the heart of the defense.

Third Touchdown drive (4th quarter)

2nd and 11 at UK 6 In what has probably become a familiar refrain, Mizzou has Kentucky behind the sticks on but is unable to get to cover the middle of the field. At this point Kentrell Brothers has left the game with a left ankle injury so Clarence Green is serving as the WLB (something I expect we'll see continue if Brothers is unable to go Saturday vs South Carolina). Aarion Penton again comes on a delayed corner blitz but Garrett Johnson throws a shimmy at LB Donavin Newsom covering him in the slot and breaks inside where Patrick Towles is able to play 35 yard pitch and catch before Mizzou's blitz lands home.

This ends up being the first 30+ play Mizzou's defense has given up in 2015 and it came in the 4th quarter with Mizzou badly needing a stop.

3rd and 5 at UK 46 This next play is just an example of great hands by WR Dorian Baker, who's gecko like sticky fingers hauled in the 25 yard sideline pass while being covered by backup corner John Gibson. Mizzou is lined up with three down defensive linemen and tries to twist Walter Brady inside and Josh Augusta outside to free up Donavin Newsom coming on the outside blitz, but Towles is too confident in his throws by this point in the game, immediately firing the ball down to his first read.

3rd and 10 at MIZ 29 Kentucky is inside Mizzou's 30 yard line and the Tigers desperately need a stop if they want to give Mauk a chance to win but Garrett Johnson once again gets open in the middle of the field, this time against backup safety Thomas Wilson for a 24 yard catch and run. Mizzou brings has Charles Harris and Walter Brady standing up on each end with Rickey Hatley the only true down lineman and brings Michael Scherer and Clarence Green on blitzes hoping to force Towles off his spot but it's too late. Only a late lunging tackle by Kenya Dennis prevents this from being a touchdown.

Third Touchdown 21-10

1st and goal at MIZ 5 The final nail in the coffin wasn't a long play tho, it was a corner fade from Towles to WR Dorian Baker over backup CB John Gibson that put Kentucky up by 14 and ultimately clinched the Kentucky victory.

Conclusion:

Linebackers need to improve

Fans see big passing plays and tend to blame the corners or safeties but in this case it's fairly obvious that many of these passing yards came right up the middle and that's on the linebackers. I didn't break down the run game but the linebackers were getting reached by Kentucky's offensive line and even when rushing the passer couldn't shed blocks so this extends beyond just the seven chunk plays I highlighted above.

The loss of Kentrell in the final quarter obviously hurt but in conjunction with Kentucky knowing Mizzou's cover 2 signals and taking advantage of Michael Scherer pass coverage deficiencies, Kentucky exposed a major flaw in what was considered an elite group on Mizzou's defense. In the past Steve Spurrier has demonstrated an affinity for picking apart a defense's weakest link. South Carolina has a potent slot receiver in Pharoh Cooper and a capable tight end Jerell Adams who can readily replicate Garrett Johnson and C.J. Conrad's impact.

Regardless if Brothers plays this Saturday or not, Mizzou's linebackers can not rely on pressure from the defensive line to force opponent's mistakes. With or without Kentrell, these linebackers must cause more pass break ups, interceptions, tackles for a loss, three and outs and simply play better coverage if this is to be a bounce back game for the Tigers.