Missouri’s ‘explosive’ offense to test UK’s stingy defense

LEXINGTON, Ky (KT) — Missouri is winless in the Southeastern Conference but the Tigers have Kentucky’s undivided attention.

“I definitely think there’s some pride there and that’s why this week is so important,” defensive coordinator Matt House said earlier this week. “This is the most explosive offense we’ve faced and we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves Saturday.”

The Tigers rank among the top offensive teams in the league and average 501 yards and 38.6 points per game. Missouri (4-3, 0-3) rolled to a 65-33 win over Memphis last weekend, marking the fourth time this season the Tigers have scored 40 or more points per game.

On the other hand, Kentucky’s defensive unit is among the national and conference leaders. The Wildcats (6-1, 4-1) are limiting opponents to just 301.9 yards per game and 12.9 points per outing, putting Kentucky No. 2 in the nation in that statistical category.

“This is going to be a good matchup for our defense,” Wildcats senior linebacker Josh Allen said. “I feel like it’s going to help solidify our defense in college rankings and SEC rankings. It’s a good matchup for both sides. We’re the number two scoring defense in all of college and they’re up there in offense, so it’s going to be a good matchup.”

Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel agreed with Allen and sees the contest as a “challenge.”

“Teams are different, obviously, and Missouri is definitely an offense that’s definitely different than what we’ve seen so far. They’re highly explosive, very fast paced, very fast tempo and they got a bunch of athletes out in space that can run. Obviously, they got many threats to hit us with so it’s going to be a challenge for us to get lined up fast and see our keys and play well.”

The biggest challenge for the Wildcats will be stopping Missouri quarterback Drew Lock who averages 282.7 yards per game and has thrown for 16 touchdowns this season. Daniel said Lock is “one of the most dynamic quarterbacks I’ve seen.”

“The guy can run, can sling it anywhere, can throw it sidearm — anything and everything,” Daniel said. “It’s going to be hard to keep him corralled.”

Like Daniel, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Lock is a “very good football player” but added his team’s next opponent isn’t a one-dimensional on the offensive side of the ball.

“Their running game and their backs are very, very talented and that sets up their RPO game and gives them some space to throw the football,” Stoops said. “ I felt that way a year ago and I certainly feel that way right now, that they’re more physical than people give them credit for, they’re really talented and run the ball and it puts a lot of pressure on your secondary. … If they have balance it puts a lot of stress on you because you have to play with numbers in the running game, which gives them opportunity for big plays in the pass game and they have the ability with the quarterback and the talent that he has, and the speed that they have, to put a lot of pressure on you.”

Although Missouri’s offense has been impressive, Tigers coach Barry Odom is aware of Kentucky’s running game, anchored by junior standout Benny Snell, who has rushed for 309 yards and scored four touchdowns in his two previous games against the Tigers. He collected 192 yards on the ground in his first visit to Missouri two years ago in 2016.

“Every week there’s a different tweak in what they do to have success,” Odom said. “Benny (Snell) is as good as there is in the country. He’s a strong, powerful guy that when it looks like there’s not anything there and you turn around and he’s broken off a way to get 20 yards.”

Odom has also been impressed with Kentucky’s defensive unit.

“They do a great job on being aggressive and almost suffocating in coverage,” Odom said. “They’re an older group and it looks like they’ve played together and it shows up in the way that they play. They’re as good of a defense as we’ve seen.”

This weekend, something will have to give and Stoops said the Wildcats are prepared for the task at hand.

“It’s all hands on deck because of the pace they play at and how they throw it around, the speed which they have,” Stoops said. You need a lot of guys, you need a lot of bodies.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Missouri, 4 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.