By Harrison Vapnek
Saturday night, Missouri (2-2) defeated Kentucky (2-3) 20-10, led by two Larry Rountree III touchdown runs and an outstanding overall defensive performance to push the Tigers to their second consecutive victory and first win against Kentucky since November 2014.
“It gives credibility to what we’ve asked these guys to do, and what we’ve asked them to do is different,” head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said postgame. “Not that what they did was right or wrong, just what we’re doing is different. It’s a different style, and we’ve asked people to really buy into it whether it’s players, coaches, administration, fans. To see the results. To see us beat a defending national champion, to see us end the streak of five years, it gives credibility to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Missouri defense played strong from the start, forcing punts on each of Kentucky’s first three drives. The Tiger offense found the end zone for the first time after a 13 play, 66-yard drive capped off by Rountree’s first touchdown of the afternoon on a one-yard run.
Kentucky responded with a field goal after a big run by Asim Rose Jr. that took the Wildcats into Missouri territory, where the Tiger defense held strong and forced a Matt Ruffolo 50-yard field goal.
Missouri ended the half with a 12-play drive where QB Connor Bazelak, making his 2nd consecutive start, took the Tigers deep in Kentucky territory after a 24-yard completion to Keke Chism and Harrison Mevis made an 18-yard chip shot to give the Tigers a 10-3 lead into the locker room.
Missouri entered the second half continuing to run the ball going 21 plays, 66 yards in just under 10 minutes but the drive stalled in the red zone as Bazelak was sacked on 4th down at the 7-yard line. On that drive, WR Jalen Knox picked up three first downs after not having any catches in the first half.
“Honestly that was a coaching screw up,” Drinkwitz said about the turnover on downs.
After the defense forced another three-and-out, the Missouri offense this time capitalized as Knox took a 27-yard catch and run into Kentucky territory and from there Rountree took over the drive and scored his 2nd touchdown of the game to give Missouri a 17-3 lead.
Kentucky immediately responded early in the 4th quarter as it took Terry Wilson and the Wildcat offense just six plays to get into the end zone, as Wilson found Josh Ali in the back of the end zone for a 26-yard TD to trim the lead to 17-10.
After an exchange of punts, Missouri sealed the game with a 15 play 61-yard drive that took over seven minutes resulting in Harrison Mevis’s 2nd field goal of the game to make it 20-10 Tigers.
Joshuah Bledsoe sealed the deal for the Tigers as on Kentucky’s first play of their next drive, Bledsoe stripped Ali at the 37-yard line and recovered it himself as the Missouri offense then milked the clock and clinched the victory. That turnover was the first that Missouri had forced in their two-game win streak.
Rountree carried the ball a career high 37 times for 126 yards and 2 TDs. He also became the 3rd leading rusher in Missouri football history, passing Brock Olivo, as he now just trails Brad Smith and Zack Abron.
“It’s crazy because me coming to college that was never a goal,” Rountree III said. “I never would’ve thought in a million years that I would be ranked third.”
Bazelak had another strong start going 21/30 for 201 yards and no turnovers, something that Drinkwitz preached this week. Nick Bolton led the defense with seven tackles, including a critical sack late in the first half to give the ball back to the Tiger offense. Missouri dominated time of possession, holding the ball for a remarkable 43:10, as even Coach Drinkwitz was surprised.
“I’m shocked at these stats,” Drinkwitz said. “I’ve never been in a game like this. That’s awesome.”
For Kentucky, the Wildcats offense only generated just 145 total yards, as Terry Wilson was just 3/9 for 35 yards. The Missouri defense kept the Wildcats off the field, holding them to just 16:50 of time of possession.
In a season where Missouri’s expectations were not high at all, the Tigers all of a sudden stand at .500 as we reach the midway point of the season and the Tigers carrying more momentum than they’ve had in several years.
Next Saturday, Missouri heads south to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators (2-1) at 6:30 pm CT on the SEC Network and right here on KCOU 88.1.
Edited by Emma Moloney