Unbeaten No. 25 Missouri begins SEC play at Kentucky
The host Wildcats (2-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) might have more to prove of the two in Saturday night's conference game after mustering just three field goals and 241 yards in last week's 14-9 loss to Florida. The offense hasn't reached the end zone since the first half at South Carolina the week before, a stretch of six straight quarters.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said last week's scoring woes might have resulted from players trying too hard to break a 28-game losing streak to the Gators. He's stressing a more relaxed yet determined focus to get points against the Tigers (3-0, 0-0).
''We need to play like we play in practice, just play loose,'' Dawson said. ''A lot of times in the game we're just scared to make mistakes, scared to do things that I see them do every day in practice. We just need to put the ball down and play like nobody's in the stadium and we'll be fine.''
Kentucky is a field-goal favorite despite last week's paltry effort, mainly because Missouri squeaked by Connecticut 9-6. Both offenses are struggling, with the Wildcats' No. 11 unit (358.3 yards per game) ranked three spots above the last-place Tigers (325) in the SEC.
Kentucky needs to be better than that against Missouri's stout defense that's allowing a conference-best 9.7 points and 217 yards per contest. Despite the numbers, Tigers coach Gary Pinkel believes his team has plenty of room for improvement after they committed four turnovers, missed two field goals and had an extra point blocked.
''We've had some tough times and we've got to work real hard to correct it,'' said Pinkel, whose team begins pursuit of its third straight SEC East title. ''Guys have got to step it up and as coaches we've got to do a better job. ... ''We're working hard to get better.''
Other things to watch when No. 25 Missouri visits Kentucky:
THE QUARTERBACKS: Missouri's Maty Mauk and Kentucky counterpart Patrick Towles both need boosts after subpar efforts last week. Towles completed just 8 of 24 passes for 126 yards and two interception against Florida, one of which led to the Gators' first touchdown and changed the momentum. Mauk rushed for a 2-yard TD but heard boos during the Tigers' lowest scoring output since 1978.
HANSBROUGH'S BACK: A sprained ankle sustained in the season opener sidelined senior tailback Russell Hansbrough last week against UConn, but he has recovered and is ready to get started after rushing for 1,084 yards last season. Hansbrough needs 54 yards to become the 15th Tigers to break 2,000 career yards, and Missouri needs his power after gaining just 85 yards on 34 carries.
PASS PROTECTION: Kentucky allowed six sacks against Florida, a big reason that Towles and the passing game sputtered. Improvement is necessary against Missouri's front four, particularly pass rushers Charles Harris and Walter Brady. Both have two sacks each and have combined for 12 tackles for loss, leaving no room for error by a young Wildcats unit.
TOP TIGERS TACKLER: Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers leads the nation with 42 tackles, including three for loss. The senior also has two interceptions and blocked two kicks.
FULL STRENGTH: Linebacker Ryan Flannigan should finally see the field after missing a good chunk of fall camp and the first three games with a shoulder injury. His return follows last week's return of Jason Hatcher from a suspension and bolsters a linebacking corps that has made do with youngsters. The Wildcats are allowing just over 380 yards per game.
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