The Edge: Cats and Tigers a battle of youth



By Ethan Levine | Follow @KernelLevine

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UK’s true freshmen vs. Missouri’s true freshmen

In the first-ever meeting between these new SEC East foes, both UK and Missouri will be featuring true freshmen in critical positions Saturday.

As it has for the last several weeks, the back-end of the Cats’ defense will feature predominantly true freshman. Against Georgia a week ago, three true freshmen played at least 60 snaps on defense. Between safeties Zack and Daron Blaylock, cornerbacks Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller and J.D. Harmon, and linebackers Khalid Henderson and Pancho Thomas, UK will have multiple freshmen on the field for most of the game.

At quarterback, the Cats will send out freshman Jalen Whitlow for the fourth week in a row, carrying UK’s inexperience issues over to the offensive side of the ball as well. Whitlow is just 34-73 passing this season and has thrown just one passing touchdown (though he has rushed for two touchdowns as well). UK likely won’t place a lot of the responsibility on offense in the shoulder of its freshman quarterback, as he has thrown just 23 passes the last two weeks combined.

Missouri has undergone a similar youth movement in recent weeks. Four weeks ago against Central Florida, starting quarterback James Franklin went down with an injury and hasn’t taken a snap since. In his absence, the offense has been led by freshman Corbin Berkstresser, who has been less than consistent in his brief stint with the first team.

Berkstresser has made two consecutive starts in conference against Vanderbilt and Alabama. In those games, he is a combined 21-59 passing with two interceptions. In a spread offense, Berkstresser has shown glimpses of the quarterback he can eventually grow into, but he has not proven he can string it together for an entire game.

Edge: UK’s true freshmen. Yes, I’m serious. The Cats’ secondary has learned by doing for several weeks this season, and has shown steady improvement against some of the conference’s premier quarterbacks, though that growth has not earned UK a victory. The Cats will first and foremost stop the run, much like it did last week against Georgia, and will force the Tigers to put their gameplan in Berkstresser’s arm. Turnovers can turn the tide in any football game and the true freshmen could be prone to a mistake or two at home.

Overall Edge: Missouri. But barely. The Cats have come close to posting major upsets over both South Carolina and Georgia and can sense a potential victory waiting for them in Columbia. This late in a one-win season, the team is playing for nothing but pride, and UK’s pride will certainly show as it welcomes the Tigers to the SEC. Missouri, like UK, has suffered through injuries and inexperience in recent weeks, and both teams can claim undesired 0-4 records and a spot in the basement of the East division. The Tigers’ talent advantage earns them a slight victory, but once again UK plays a close game in conference.

Final score: Missouri 24, UK 20