“We’ve found ways to win and we’re responding to adversity,” said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops after his Wildcats defended their home turf in a 40-34 final against the Missouri Tigers on Saturday night.
That’s the type of quote Mizzou fans are hoping to hear from Barry Odom.
“In a game of evenly matched teams, it’s going to come down to who makes more plays,” Odom said. “I’ve been in games like that before. It usually comes down to six or seven plays over the course of the game. There’s a deciding factor, and that’s the way it was tonight.”
I’ll give you my take on the handful of plays that were the difference for a Tigers team that has zero margin for error if they expect to win in the SEC.
1. Tucker McCann’s 45 yard field goal is blocked. McCann was 2-for-3 on FG attempts with his longest attempt made from 27 yards. If it weren’t for McCann’s acting skills, he would have been 1-for-3 after he pushed his second attempt of the game wide right, but tumbled to the ground drawing a penalty when a Kentucky player dove at his feet. With the five-yard bump, McCann made that kick. However, testing McCann’s leg from 45 yards is just not wise. The way Mizzou was converting on third and fourth downs by running the football, I would have chosen to go for it on 4th and 6 from the Kentucky from the 28. Which brings me to key play number two.
2. 3rd and 6 from the Kentucky 28. The Tigers were 8-of-17 on third down conversions…a pretty good rate. After converting earlier on the drive with an Ish Witter run on 3rd and 8, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, with his team in four down territory, elected to send all four receivers straight to the end zone for basically a 3rd down Hail Mary. Drew Lock’s pass was broken up leaving the Tigers to rely on McCann’s inaccurate leg and poor snapping. Heupel could have tried another run, perhaps a safety route for Lock to check down. Even if the Tigers gain three yards, a 4th and 3 from the 25 is still better than a 42-yard attempt to McCann.
3. Damarea Crockett’s fumble. The Tigers came into the game with a horrible turnover ratio, ranked 127th in D-I. After Cale Garrett intercepted Stephen Johnson’s ugly pass attempt, Mizzou was in business at the Kentucky 34, trailing 20-17. The Tigers cut the lead to three after a long 13-play drive that resulted in a field goal. On the Tigers first play, UK’s Darius West got a helmet on the ball and Crockett coughed up the football turning it right back over to the Wildcats. Kentucky answered with a nine-play drive to go back up 27-17.
From that point on, the Tigers had to continue to play catchup. Drew Lock’s inflated numbers will look impressive with three touchdown and 355 yards, but the reality is the Tigers once again felt like they needed to take deep shots down the field. Lock was fortunate to connect on a couple of those to Emmanuel Hall and Josh Johnson, thus boosting his numbers.
4. Drew Lock’s fumble on the Tigers first possession. After the defense held UK to a three and out, Lock dropped back to pass on 3rd and 7 from his own 24 and was blindsided by one of Kentucky’s “Blitz Brothers,” Josh Allen. Kentucky recovered at the Tigers’ 19 and three plays later took a 7-0 lead early.
Two giveaways by Mizzou led to 14 points, One forced turnover let to exactly one play from scrimmage.
5. Benny Snell’s 75-yard touchdown run. I’ve focused a lot on the Tigers offense, but the defense was also at fault. On Snell’s run, linebacker Brandon Lee let’s UK’s tight end streak off the line as he pinched. That forced safety Adam Sparks to react to the receiver while Snell is taking the handoff. Garrett is blocked up front and defensive end Jordan Harold bites on Johnson’s fake as well and is held up at the line. Snell picks a hole after the Kentucky line blocks all five Missouri rushers. Sparks was late in recovering back to the middle of the field and is left as the only defender left to chase Snell, who hurdles over Sparks for the score. We’ve seen long runs by opposing rushers all season where Missouri is barely get a hand on running backs. The same mistakes can’t be happening five games into the season.
I could add McCann’s missed 38 yard field goal as a key play as well, but those four or five plays I explained led to a direct impact of a 20-point swing. Now, it’s either a credit to the Kentucky offense or discredit to Mizzou’s defense, but the Wildcats scored the first touchdown of the game by converting in the red zone. They also drove 66 yards after the Crockett fumble and after the field goal block, chewed up time off the clock and added another field goal late that forced Lock and the offense to need a 75 yard touchdown drive in the final minute to win…and it didn’t happen.