COLUMBIA, Mo. — There were records a plenty for Kentucky’s run game as Benny Snell, Boom Williams and the Wildcats offensive line punished Missouri to stay in second place in the SEC East.
Kentucky (5-3, 4-2 SEC) beat Missouri 35-21 as past road woes proved to no longer be a problem. Coach Mark Stoops’ squad is a win away from its first bowl game since 2010 as the expectations are expanding in Lexington.
Here’s how we graded the performance against Missouri.
Snell broke a handful of records himself, and he and Williams combined to break a few more. Kentucky tallied 377 rushing yards and both backs went over the 175-yard mark — the first Kentucky duo to ever achieve that in an SEC game. Stoops gave the game ball to the offensive line for springing Snell and Williams loose.
Kentucky is turning into a run-heavy, grind-it-out team behind one of the best backfields in the SEC. The Wildcats once again won time of possession and were able to bleed the clock when it was required.
Snell and Williams led and quarterback Stephen Johnson did his part to give a sense of balance to the attack. Johnson passed for 208 yards and 2 scores.
The one knock against the offense was the same knock as every week before: turnovers. Williams fumbled deep in Missouri territory and Johnson threw an interception to forfeit a potential field-goal opportunity as the first half was ending. Only Duke, Bowling Green and Kansas have more turnovers than Kentucky.
Missouri’s offense has been dreadful in conference play, and Kentucky did its part to prolong the Tigers’ struggle.
Kentucky’s defense allowed a big score going into halftime that cut the lead to 21-7, but it was the only major miscue for the Wildcats. Kentucky’s defense has been the strength of the team during conference play to keep games low scoring when the offense was sputtering. But the offense was near its best on Saturday, and less was required from the defense.
Missouri’s spread attack offers a different look than almost any other SEC foe, and Kentucky did well to hold the Tigers to just 7 points through three quarters and 21 overall.
Special teams: D
Poor punting, a missed field goal and allowing a 63-yard punt return equaled a bad day for Kentucky’s special teams units.
Austin MacGinnis, the hero against Mississippi State, wasn’t close on his only attempt of the day from 47 yards out. Punter Grant McKinniss was off his game as well. He averaged just 36 yards on his five attempts.
Missouri’s 63-yard punt return in the fourth quarter made it to the 1-yard line and the Tigers cashed in to cut the lead to 35-14. It never threatened the result, but it wasn’t the ideal way for the Wildcats to finish the game. Stoops praised the special teams unit early in the season but the group was sloppy on Saturday.
The offensive game plan wasn’t too difficult to figure out: run, run and run.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran continues to put quarterback Stephen Johnson in positions where he can succeed and manage the game within his skill set. Snell and Williams take much of the pressure off Johnson, but the offense is continuing to grow.
And who to credit for a few more offensive wrinkles Kentucky showed against Missouri? Defensive-minded Mark Stoops.
Gran said Stoops gave him a few pointers for more looks Kentucky could show out of the Wildcat formation — a set the team has been reliant upon during the recent win streak.
Kentucky’s wins against South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State were games that could’ve gone either way. All three were undecided until late in the fourth quarter.
That wasn’t the case Saturday.
Kentucky took control early and never let it go. There were times when the Wildcats showed signs of letting a lead slip, but it never proved to be a real worry. Kentucky led 35-7 before a couple of late scores added a level of respect to the scoreboard. The Wildcats were every bit 14 points better than Missouri and probably more.
They handled an SEC opponent with ease for the first time this season.