The game was closer than a lot of people expected but Kentucky survived a tough test from Missouri and now finds itself 5-1 with a bye week ahead.
Here are Cats Illustrated's weekly grades for Kentucky's performance.
Stephen Johnson ultimately put up impressive numbers (22/36, 298 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 44 rushing yards on 11 carries) but he was up and down in terms of his accuracy with the football. His contributions on the ground helped and he hit on plenty of nice throws to his wide receivers. He also only took one sack. Anyone who watched the game knew it wasn't his best performance. He almost threw a pick deep in Kentucky territory at the end of the first half, but once again Kentucky's senior leader did exactly what you want a senior leader to do late in the game.
Kentucky finished the game with 188 rushing yards on 39 carries with two rushing touchdowns. Sihiem King had six carries for 20 yards but was kept in check. Benny Snell's success was hit or miss but his 71-yard touchdown run was a huge play when Kentucky needed one. He finished with 20 carries for 117 yards, and Missouri fans and coaches are probably having nightmares about him after the last two years. He's on pace for well over 1,000 yards in spite of Kentucky's dip in rushing production from last season.
Kentucky's wide receivers continue their stellar play at least relative to the modest expectations and some of the concern heading into the season following Dorian Baker's injury. Garrett Johnson (7 catches, 111 yards, TD) had one of his better games as a Wildcat and has become a great option in the short passing game, where he's making defenders miss and moving the chains consistently. Kayaune Ross (4 catches, 77 yards), Lynn Bowden (3 catches, 49 yards) and Blake Bone (3 catches, 30 yards) also made consistent contributions. Tavin Richardson chipped in with a 27-yard reception.
The tight ends were not targeted in the way we've been accustomed to seeing, and that's saying something because many observers have believed they should be targeted more often. C.J. Conrad was targeted by Snell on a pass off the Wildcat but it would have been a tough grab.
It's often tough to grade the offensive line quickly after the game but the raw stats are not that bad. Missouri had one sack and six tackles for loss. The run game averaged 4.8 yards per carry, had 188 yards and two touchdowns. Missouri only had two additional quarterback hurries. But by and large Kentucky still struggled in some short yardage situations. It was a big step forward from last week but there's still plenty of work to be done. One of the big developments was the emergence of Drake Jackson at center, and Luke Fortner blew open a big hole for Snell on his long touchdown run as well.
The line simply didn't generate much pressure at all and Missouri finished the game with 213 rushing yards (6.5 yards per carry). Kentucky's entire defensive line accounted for three tackles and zero tackles for loss and sacks, and Adrian Middleton had the unit's only hurry.
It was a poor game for Kentucky's linebackers as well. Courtney Love had 10 tackles so he got his numbers but he was also beat in coverage on one of Missouri's long touchdown passes. Eli Brown (5 tackles) and Josh Allen (5 tackles, 1 sack, forced fumble) chipped in as well but given Missouri's success on offense, both running and passing, it would be hard to give this unit a strong grade.
An amazing 49 of Kentucky's 64 total tackles were made by defensive backs so they were active bringing down ball carriers and receivers but nobody who watched the game could be complimentary of the group. It was by far their worst outing of the season and former Auburn coach and UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik called the out on the SEC Network after the game for giving up three huge passing plays that were scores. Lonnie Johnson had a rough game and was beat multiple times and Derrick Baity was also beat on a long pass down at the goal line. Kendall Randolph appeared lost in coverage at times as well. Baity did have three pass breakups and West forced a fumble.
Once again, Kentucky's special teams unit was special. It was far from a perfect performance, but the big plays went Kentucky's way and proved to be the difference in the game. While Johnson struggled in the secondary he blocked a Missouri field goal (after a high and wide snap). Bowden had a nice kickoff return but should have tried to field another punt that ultimately bounced down inside the 5-yard line. Matt Panton did not have his best game as a Wildcat (36.7 average on 3 punts, zero inside the 20), but Austin MacGinnis became the program's all-time leading scorer and connected on 4/4 field goals with a long of 53. On top of that, Kash Daniel extended a key Kentucky drive on run off a fake punt.
Some will argue that the grade should be lower on the basis of Mark Stoops' decision to kick a field goal to build a six-point lead with two minutes to go, and that's a legitimate criticism in terms of the decision. However, it did work out for Kentucky and hypothetically had Stoops gone for it and failed, Missouri could have attempted a game-tying field goal if they had moved into position. Still, given their field goal issues and Kentucky's secondary's struggles, it was a curious call. Eddie Gran did open up the playbook when he needed to in the second half and it's hard to fault the offense for 486 yards and 40 points. Defensively, the Cats were not sound, but it's hard to tell how much of that was game planning and how much of it was just defenders losing matchups and players being banged up.