What the Tigers have to do to leave Lexington with a win

The Kentucky Wildcats ran wild last Saturday at Kroger Field. Will Levis spread the ball all over the field in a dominant 45-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe. His first game with Kentucky sent shockwaves through the SEC that this offense brings more to the table than previous expectations.

A strong combination of playmakers made things possible for Levis. Wide receivers Josh Ali and Wan’Dale Robinson worked in tandem as the leading pass-catchers, both putting up over 100 yards and at least one touchdown on just five receptions each. Their big-play ability got Kentucky down the field with ease, creating separation that was impossible for Levis to ignore.

But, that wasn’t the only thing that made the Kentucky offense successful. Running back Chris Rodriguez carried the ball 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown, and Mizzou defensive coordinator Steve Wilks took note.

“Definitely one of the things that we’ve got to make sure we shore up is our run fix,” said Wilks. “Kentucky does a great job running the football… very dynamic football team. When you look at their offensive line, it’s probably, if not the best, one of the best in the SEC, so we’ve got our hands full up front. Very massive, they come off the ball, do a great job, and they do an outstanding job, of course, protecting the quarterback as well.”

Dare Rosenthal looked great in his first appearance as a Wildcat at left tackle, and Darian Kinnard will continue to be an anchor at the right tackle position. Offensive guards Kenneth Horsey and Eli Cox also made plays to open things up for the offense, and the Mizzou defensive line will be competing against a very sound unit.

It’s important, though, to consider that Lousiana-Monroe wasn’t exactly the most challenging test for Kentucky. The Warhawks went 0-10 in 2020 and allowed opponents to score at least 30 points in every game they played. The 7-0 lead they took in the first quarter was the first time they’d been on top in a game since 2019.

But, it will still be tough for Mizzou to stop the Kentucky offense, especially if they can’t put pressure on the quarterback. There’s clear depth in the Mizzou secondary, but coverage breaks can happen if Levis has time to wait for his playmakers to get downfield.

“Everything we do starts up front,” said Wilks. “We’ve got to do a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage. It’s going to be a challenge for us.”

The Tigers’ offense, meanwhile, needs to continue where it left off last week: feeding Tyler Badie and keeping Connor Bazelak comfortable in the pocket.

“We know it’s going to be a hostile environment at night,” he said. “So for us, it’s all about execution. I mean, we’re not focused on too much of what they’re doing, we just gotta control what we’re doing. We know if we execute and go out there with the right mindset and mentality, then things should go in our favor.”

Mizzou’s injury report has Case Cook, D’ionte Smith and Mookie Cooper listed as probable, which potentially means that Cooper will have a more flexible route tree as he grows more comfortable in his recovery from a lower leg injury. Kris Abrams-Draine and Barrett Banister are listed at questionable, which is worrisome after both saw significant playing time (especially Abrams-Draine in the nickel cornerback role) last week. Ben Key is listed as doubtful, and Ja’Mori Maclin and Cannon York are out for the game.

Action kicks off in Lexington at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, a matchup that has big implications down the line in the SEC East.

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