By Alex Forkner
A ball possessed
The University of Missouri’s defense leads the conference in turnover margin per game at 1.67, good for third in the nation. The Tigers have picked off 17 passes, also tops in the SEC and tied for second in the country.
Meanwhile, UK hasn’t committed a turnover in a school-record four straight games. UK quarterbacks have thrown only two interceptions this season, and the offense as a whole has lost only four fumbles. The Cats are tied for second in the nation for fewest turnovers committed.
On the flip side, UK’s defense only has one interception on the season, 14th in the SEC, and is sixth in the conference and 41st nationally in turnover margin per game at 0.38.
Missouri’s offense has thrown five interceptions and lost just four fumbles this season.
This is the sort of game where turnovers could shift momentum in a big way. So far this season, UK hasn’t been able to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes.
Sophomore linebacker Josh Forrest’s interception against the University of Florida gave UK prime field position and the chance to cut the Gators’ lead to a one-possession game, but the offense sputtered and scored no points.
Early fumbles by the University of Alabama kept the Tide off the scoreboard, but the Cats couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities.
The Tigers are accomplished thieves. Missouri has forced a turnover in 39 straight games, the longest streak of any BCS school.
Sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow has been careful with his passes so far this season, his only interception coming against the University of Louisville. But UK will need to take some chances in the passing game to make the contest winnable, and the Tigers’ defensive backs will be waiting to pounce.
Defensive end game
Both Missouri and UK will line up stud defensive ends in this game.
Missouri senior defensive end Michael Sam has been fed a steady diet of quarterbacks this season, racking up 10 sacks, which leads the conference and the nation. Sam has three games this season with three sacks, and has 16 tackles for loss.
UK’s junior defensive end tandem of Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith each have 5.5 sacks this year, tied for fifth in the league. Dupree has recorded at least a partial sack in each of his last six games.
Whether it’s freshman quarterback Maty Mauk or senior quarterback James Franklin in the backfield, Dupree and Smith will be tasked with disrupting the offense. And when Whitlow drops back to pass or takes off to run, he’ll have to be ever aware of Sam’s presence.
Against Alabama State University, UK showed a tendency to give up sacks and tackles for loss. Whitlow was taken down three times, losing a total of 26 yards. If that’s what an FCS team can do, Sam should get his fill on Saturday.
Overall Edge: Missouri
UK should give the Tigers a game, having some Missouri faithful worried about dropping their chance at an SEC East title, but the Cats will start to fade late in the game.
Prediction: Missouri 34, UK 24