Welcome to Upset Alert, a weekly column about a Saturday favorite liable to get knocked off by the underdog.
We’ve now successfully called two upsets in a row — Arkansas over Ole Miss (34-30) and Kentucky over Mississippi State (40-38). This week, with few options to choose from, we’re sticking with the Wildcats.
Inexplicably, they are 5.5-point underdogs in a road game against Missouri on Saturday, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. Here’s why coach Mark Stoops and the gang will keep up their winning ways:
3. Opposite directions
Since getting squashed by Florida in The Swamp during Week 2, Kentucky has gone 4-1, its only loss being at Alabama. The games definitely haven’t been pretty, whether you’re talking the Mississippi State shootout, 7-point wins over South Carolina and Vanderbilt or giving up 500 total yards to New Mexico State.
But the Wildcats have found a way each to hang on each time, and they’ve been competitive against Power 5 competition.
Missouri is 0-4 against Power 5 teams this season, and the Tigers just fell to Middle Tennessee State at home, 51-45. Their only wins have come against Delaware State, a winless FCS program, and Eastern Michigan.
Mizzou will have home-field advantage, sure, but there can’t be much confidence on its sideline right now. Barry Odom has struggled in his first season as a head coach, while Stoops seems to be learning from the trials of his first three seasons.
2. Offensive rejuvenation and defensive disaster
Kentucky is coming off its best offensive output since dropping 62 points on a hapless New Mexico State team in Week 3.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson threw for 292 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Bulldogs. He also lost two fumbles, but for what it’s worth, Missouri has been careless with the football this year, too (14 turnovers). Tailback Benjamin Snell stayed hot, busting through the MSU defense for 128 yards, and Stanley ‘Boom’ Williams added 99 yards rushing on 14 carries.
Whether the passing-game numbers show up against a Missouri secondary that’s been OK this season (10 interceptions) is debatable, but what isn’t is how bad the Tigers are at stopping the run.
In its last three games, Missouri has given up at least 287 yards rushing on 7.3-plus yards per carry. Kentucky has run for at least 216 yards in four of its last five games.
This has been UK’s recipe for success, and it’ll play right into offensive coordinator Eddie Gran’s hands on Saturday.
Worse still for Mizzou: Two of its best players on the front seven are done for the year. Linebacker Michael Scherer and defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. both suffered torn ACLs last week.
Basically, 50 points for Kentucky isn’t out of the question.
1. Bowl-game bound?
The ‘Cats are still vying for their first bowl game under Stoops, and beating Missouri on Saturday would all but clinch 6-6 for them. (UK hosts 0-7 Austin Peay in Week 12.) They’re also still alive in the SEC East race, though just barely, with Florida still needing to play Georgia and LSU in the coming weeks.
There’s a lot more riding on this game for Kentucky than there is for Missouri. The Tigers just lost their homecoming game, key players to injury and seem pretty rudderless.
What will keep Missouri in this game is the passing game. While the ground game has been pretty weak in Columbia this year, quarterback Drew Lock has been able to put up big numbers in a few games.
Unfortunately for Lock, though, UK’s pass defense has been markedly improved in recent weeks. Nick Fitzgerald could only muster 81 yards passing in last week’s game, while the struggling offenses of South Carolina and Vanderbilt were held below the 200-yard mark.
Kentucky has a shot to keep the wins rolling on Saturday, in what should be another high-scoring affair. As it was last week, a late field goal should be the difference.