A pair of SEC squads meet in Columbia on Saturday afternoon attempting to win their first conference game of the season, as the Missouri Tigers play host to the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky is coming off one of its most impressive performances of the season last week in a 29-24 defeat to nationally-ranked Georgia, a game in which it led in the third quarter. While it may have been a moral victory for the Wildcats, the fact remains that they only have one actual victory on the season, a 47-14 defeat of Kent State on Sept. 8. They have won just four of their 20 conference games since the start of the 2010 season.
Missouri’s transition from the Big 12 Conference to the SEC has not been a smooth one. All four of the Tigers’ losses this season have come in conference play, including most recently in blowout fashion versus top-ranked Alabama on Oct. 13, 42-10.
The Wildcats have won both previous matchups in the all-time series with Missouri, but the two teams have not met since 1968.
Kentucky has one of the worst offenses in the country, ranking 13th out of 14 SEC teams in both points per game (19.3) and yards per game (309.3).
With Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles out with injuries, the Wildcats are down to their third option at quarterback in Jalen Whitlow, who has played poorly, completing less than 47 percent of his passes for 368 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Morgan Newton has been even worse (10-of-32, three INTs), although he threw for a touchdown and ran for another against Georgia.
The lack of continuity at quarterback has hindered La’Rod King’s effectiveness in recent weeks, but he still leads the team in all major receiving categories (35 receptions, 396 yards, four TDs).
UK has also suffered injuries at running back, but has found some success with the tandem of Raymond Sanders (76 carries, 396 yards, three TDs) and Jonathan George (60 carries, 288 yards, three TDs).
The defense (32.4 ppg, 426.6 ypg) has not picked up the slack for the offense. The unit has a difficult time getting off the field, as opponents convert 54 percent of their third down attempts and average more than 33 minutes of possession time.
Avery Williamson (81 tackles) is among the top tacklers in the nation and he also has an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Alvin Dupree (6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Collins Ukwu (three sacks, two QB hurries), and Donte Rumph (four TFL, three sacks) can all get after the quarterback.
Missouri’s offense is only slightly better than Kentucky’s (23.1 ppg, 323.7 ypg), and it has also struggled with a lack of identity at the quarterback position.
James Franklin (161 passing ypg, four TDs, two INTs) has been sidelined with an injury, but even in the five games he has appeared, he seems to have taken a step back from an outstanding 2011 season. Freshman Corbin Berkstresser hasn’t fared any better, completing less than 48 percent of his passes for 627 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Kendial Lawrence has been a reliable performer in the UM backfield with 524 yards and five scores on 95 carries, but the team as a whole averages just 3.7 ypc and no other player has more than 120 rushing yards.
Marcus Lucas (32 receptions, 327 yards, two TDs) and T.J. Moe (26 receptions, 250 yards, TD) headline a modest receiving corps. This off-season’s prized recruit Dorial Green-Beckham has not contributed much in his freshman year (seven receptions, 128 yards, TD).
Perhaps the Tigers’ most dangerous weapon sees most of his time on special teams. Marcus Murphy leads the nation with four return touchdowns, which includes a 98-yard kickoff return against Alabama.
After giving up a total of 31 points in its previous two games, the Missouri defense had no answer for Alabama last week, allowing 42 points and more than 530 yards of offense.
The front seven has played well, with Sheldon Richardson, Kony Ealy, Michael Sam and Jimmy Burge all recording at least 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Kip Edwards (24 tackles) has a nose for the football, recording two interceptions and three fumble recoveries.