Mizzou was rolling, up 21-0 in the second quarter. However, thanks to dumb penalties, an offense that went silent, and poor defense, the Memphis Tigers scored 17 straight points. It was third and one on the Mizzou side of the field and Mizzou failed to convert. How would Odom, Lock, and the Mizzou offense respond? Following a gutsy call rolling Lock out of the pocket, Mizzou converted the fourth down on a short pass to Johnathon Johnson, who somehow did not drop the pass. The next play, Albert O went deep for the touchdown and Mizzou was once again off and running.
Like a car stalled out and needing a quick restart, Mizzou got the jolt it needed on that fourth down and put Memphis away for good, providing Lock and Odom with their first win against a Power-Five team with a winning record. The win does not mean the same mistakes this imperfect Tiger team continue to make are gone though. Mizzou still committed 12 penalties for 122 yards. They still allowed Memphis to score 33 points (not as worried about this one). But, for the first time, when it came down to it, the Tigers finally stepped on the throat of an opponent and cemented a victory in convincing fashion. This week, the opponent is upgraded and the Tigers return to SEC play against the no. 12 Kentucky Wildcats.
While it is trite to say every game could be the defining game of a player or coaches career, the upcoming home game against the Wildcats presents an opportunity for Lock and Odom to achieve another first, a win against a ranked opponent. Drew Lock has repeatedly said he wants to leave a legacy at Mizzou and delivering a home win against a ranked SEC division opponent could do just that. But let’s look at the Wildcats to know if Mizzou can beat Kentucky.
Kentucky’s offense is basically a better version of the Memphis Tigers. They are also led by a top-five running back in the country, Benny Snell. Snell leads the Wildcats with 9 rushing TDs and 868 rushing yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. While this is almost half of the average rush of Memphis RB Darrell Henderson, Kentucky has played the likes of Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Texas A&M, beating all of them except A&M in a loss in OT. Kentucky’s offensive weakness appears to be poor QB play, where the Wildcats average a paltry 127 yards per game behind Terry Wilson. Lynn Bowden Jr. is the leading receiver for the Cats, who has the same number of TDs this season that Albert O scored against Memphis (three).
Kentucky’s defense comes in as the number four defense according to Football Outsiders, reflecting the quality of their opponents and pure efficiency. They only allow 302.6 yards of total offense per game. Josh Allen (one of the best linebackers in the country) leads the team with eight sacks and will put the experienced Mizzou O-line to the test. The Kentucky secondary is led by safety Darius West, who has three interceptions and one fumble return for a TD.
Kentucky started the year off strong, ended an absurdly long losing streak to the Florida Gators on the road, beat a decent Mississippi State team at home, took the Aggies to OT on the road, and beat down the Gamecocks. This may be the best Kentucky team of our lifetimes, yet last week seemed to open the door to the usual Mark Stoops second-half slowdown. Kentucky barely got past Vanderbilt, scoring only 14 points. While Snell still got his, Kentucky struggled and appears vulnerable.
To see if Mizzou can beat Kentucky, we need to gaze into a crystal ball and try to determine which Missouri team will show up this week. If the South Carolina/Georgia/Alabama version walks into Faurot Field on Saturday and continuously shoots itself in the foot with bad penalties, inconsistent offense and poor defense, the Tigers will most likely lose a close game. However, if Odom and Lock have righted the ship, continue to utilize the emerging weapons of Jalen Knox and Albert O and get back top-WR and deep threat Emanuel Hall, and the defense gets much needed turnovers, Mizzou may have too much talent for the Wildcats to keep up with.
Like last week, the run defense will be the key to the Missouri defense getting three and outs. Terry Beckner Jr. and Terez Hall will lead the defense in stopping Benny Snell from grinding down the field on 10 or 15 play drives, eating away at the clock and keeping Lock and company off the field. Special teams will also play a role, with both Tucker McCann and Corey Fatony needing to execute cleanly.
Vegas likes the Tigers to pull the upset against the Wildcats thanks to a second week in a row strength on strength match up at home. The up and down Tigers will most likely play with our emotions for four quarters on Saturday, balancing amazing efficiency and talent with bone-headed mistakes and undisciplined play. However, it is nice to once again see the emergence of a Tigers team that can make big plays in all three phases of the game, and I do think the Tigers will finally beat a ranked opponent, giving Odom and Lock their biggest win and even more momentum heading into a huge game against the Gators in the Swamp.