The good, bad and ugly from Kentucky’s 35-28 win over Missouri


Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) stiff arms a defender to score a touchdown during UK’s game against Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 35-28. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Kentucky’s win over Missouri on Saturday proves that Mark Stoops’ program has taken a major step forward from the past couple of yearsprompting many things to be praised, while also shining a light on some glaring weaknesses. 

The story wrote itself; Kentucky had the opportunities they needed to go up by three scores and deliver a knockout blow to the Tigers. The first few drives of the game, it seemed like UK was going to score 50 points, no problem. But the turnover bug decided to bite, and suddenly the Wildcats were amidst a tie game in the fourth quarter.  

Kentucky fans have seen this story unfold in front of them far too often, usually ending with UK on the wrong side of the final score, but the Cats battled back and got a well-deserved win that should not have been as close as it was.  

“We had a chance to really put a knife in them,” Stoops said. “We let them off the hook. They put the dagger in us at the end of the first half with the touchdown. 

Chris Rodriguez Jr once again proved why he is one of the best running backs in the SEC, racking up 213 total yards and four touchdowns, both of which are career highs for the junior. Rodriguez averaged 7.7 yards-per-carry. 

While he didn’t see as many targets from Will Levis, Wan’Dale Robinson still managed to get his yards. The Nebraska transfer finished with 174 total yards, including a 64-yard rush on a jet sweep and a 49-yard reception. Robinson became the first Wildcat with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Jeff Badet in 2016. 

While the skill positions excelled on Saturday, Levis did not provide an encore to his week one performance against UL Monroe on Saturday, throwing for just 179 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 10-18 passing.  

“We were effective in the pass game early on in the first half,” Stoops said. “It is nice to have that ability and that balance to be able to throw the ball.” 

Levis also rushed 11 times, netting 25 yards and a scramble for a touchdown.  

Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns and an interception. Bazelak’s 34 completions compiled for “aggravating yards,” according to Stoops. Just one completion went for more than 20 yards for the Tigers. 

Tyler Badie finished with 149 total yards for Mizzou, rushing 14 times and catching 10 passes. Badie was both the feature back and receiver for Bazelak in Lexington.  

“(Badie) is a really good player. He’s got really — he’s really explosive,” Stoops said. “They certainly moved the ball on us better than a lot of people lately and kept us off-balanced. But it starts with their run game, as well. You have to respect it.” 

Tackling was a struggle for the Wildcats on Saturday, Badie was able to extend multiple plays for the Tigers, gaining over 50 yards after receptions. 

“I thought we missed way too many plays — tackles in the flats,” Stoops said. “You know, it’s part of it. But, again, it’s a team defense. When you have guys in great position, you tend to not miss as many tackles.” 

Tackling is one thing that Stoops knows will get better over the season with time, but a possible turnover issue is something that needs to be addressed immediately. 

Kentucky has turned the ball over twice in both games this season. Saturday saw a Levis pass go through the hands of Izayah Cummings, resulting in a Mizzou interception. Rodriguez would fumble in the second quarter at the goal line, a play that would have put Kentucky up by three scores. Missouri would also block a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.  

“We have to clean that up. We have to get better, and we will. You know, once again, there’s no excuse for fumbling the ball on the 6-inch line. No excuse to get a field goal blocked,” Stoops said.  

Despite the turnoversKentucky was able to fight through adversity and come away with a win against an SEC opponent. The win was No. 51 for Stoops, bringing his record at Kentucky to above .500 for the first time. Stoops is now just nine wins away from tying Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most wins in school history. 

“We rose up and made some stops when we had to. So overall great team victory. We’ll enjoy it tonight and get back to work and try to get to 3-0 next week,” Stoops said.