For the most part, UK had been on a steady track of getting a little bit better, even in defeat.
That is, until No. 9 Missouri rolled into town.
The Wildcats took a step in the wrong direction Saturday, falling 48-17 at Commonwealth Stadium. Only No. 1-ranked Alabama has handed Kentucky (2-7, 0-5 SEC) a more lopsided defeat this season, and the Cats' other three league losses had come by fewer points (30) combined.
"Tough day for us out there today," Stoops said. "Very tough match up. Give Missouri credit; they beat us in all three phases of the game. It's a very good football team."
Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) got 203 yards passing and a career-high five touchdowns from redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk. Four of those went to towering sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who had seven total catches for 100 yards.
"Well there is a physical mismatch with almost anybody he plays against," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Green-Beckham. "He's 6-foot-6, weighs 225 pounds, and he's athletic. He can jump. We're just fortunate he's on my team. A guy like that can make plays, you coach them only to a certain point, you can throw it up, and he made a couple really great catches."
"They had some wideouts that we couldn't match up with, quite frankly, and that wasn't a good match up for us," Stoops said. "Green-Beckham was the No. 1 player in the country a couple years ago, right? He's a beast. hey're big, and they have great balance, and they put you in a real bind."
Junior running back Henry Josey added 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns for the Tigers' offense.
Meanwhile, the Mizzou defense sacked Kentucky seven times and finished with 11 tackles for loss on the day. Its special teams also came up with a blocked punt that set up a score.
The only misteps for the Tigers were a pair of fumbles near midfield -- one in the first quarter and another early in the fourth -- but the UK offense went three-and-out and lost yardage on both possessions.
"It wasn't a great effort by us tonight," Stoops said. "It wasn't. It wasn't good."
Kentucky, which lost its 13th consecutive SEC game, trailed 28-3 at halftime thanks in part to consecutive breakdowns in the punting game -- one shanked by Landon Foster for 13 yards on his own end of the field and another blocked near the goal line that led to a Mizzou score on the next play.
The Wildcats showed a little spark in the third quarter with a pair of long scoring drives, but were unable to pull any closer than 18 the rest of the way. They also saw their school-record four-game streak without a turnover end in that quarter as Raymond Sanders coughed up the football after a 40-yard pass from Whitlow, UK's second-longest play of the day.
Kentucky got a career-high 225 yards passing and 44 yards rushing in a gritty performance from sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow. However, the Cats averaged only 2.6 yards per rushing attempt and went 6-for-18 on third-down conversions, leading to nine punts on the day.
09:57 UK - Joe Mansour 21 yd field goal, 9-76 3:07 0 – 3
01:20 MU - Green-Beckham, 8 yd pass from Mauk, Maty (Baggett, Andrew kick), 3-39 0:51 7 – 3
14:47 MU - Josey, Henry 4 yd run (Baggett, Andrew kick), 1-4 0:06 14 – 3
08:12 MU - Green-Beckham, 7 yd pass from Mauk, Maty (Baggett, Andrew kick), 10-67 4:07 21 – 3
01:38 MU - Josey, Henry 6 yd pass from Mauk, Maty (Baggett, Andrew kick), 15-87 4:23 28 – 3
09:24 UK - Jalen Whitlow 1 yd run (Joe Mansour kick), 13-73 5:31 28 – 10
06:13 MU - Green-Beckham, 22 yd pass from Mauk, Maty (Baggett, Andrew kick), 3-44 1:26 35 – 10
02:03 UK - Raymond Sanders 1 yd run (Joe Mansour kick), 8-75 4:10 35 – 17
14:56 MU - Green-Beckham, 7 yd pass from Mauk, Maty (Baggett, Andrew kick failed), 5-32 1:54 41 – 17
10:00 MU - Josey, Henry 86 yd run (Baggett, Andrew kick), 1-86 0:15 48 - 17