Four Downs: Kentucky Players Under Microscope vs. Missouri Tigers

In this edition of AllWildcats "Four Downs," we take a look at the four Kentucky players most under the microscope in Saturday's matchup with the Missouri Tigers.

1. Patrick Towles

Nobody needs a strong showing any more than the Wildcats' junior quarterback, who is coming off an 8-for-24, six-sack, two-interception performance against Florida in a 14-9 loss that saw Kentucky fail to reach the end zone. To be clear, those numbers weren't solely Towles' responsibility. He was plagued by shoddy protection from his offensive line and frequent drops from his receiver corps. But, ultimately, the quarterback is the one who receives the lion's share of the glory when things go right and the criticism when things go wrong. Towles will be facing another outstanding defense this week, and if he fares well against Missouri, that will certainly go a long way toward silencing calls for UK to take a look at redshirt freshman Drew Barker going into the EKU game. If he struggles again, though, it could mean next week's game is a perfect opportunity against an FCS opponent to give the understudy a shot.

2. Jordan Swindle

One of only a handful of seniors on UK's two-deep depth chart, Swindle needs two come through with a big effort on and off the field against Mizzou. A lot of the young players will be looking to the veterans for leadership coming off a bitterly-disappointing loss. Swindle's not an overly-vocal leader, but he may have to be this week. The O-Line looked lethargic at times against Florida and will need more scrap in them facing Mizzou. Swindle's been known to mix it up from time to time, and this would be a good week to bring out a bit of the nasty streak. As the starting left tackle protecting Towles' back side, he'll also be tested by one of the SEC's best defensive ends in the Tigers' Charles Harris. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound sophomore leads his team with three sacks and three quarterback hurries this season. Few programs in the country are better at developing edge-rushers than Mizzou, which sent Shane Ray and Markus Golden to the NFL from last year's defense and Michael Sam in 2014. 

3. Dorian Baker

Like Towles, the sophomore wide receiver hasn't exactly played poorly this season, he's just been inconsistent. Baker leads the Cats with 11 receptions for 139 yards, but has dropped a pass on the opening drive of two straight games that helped swing momemtum in favor of the opponent. Last week, it was a potential touchdown pass in the end zone that would have sent an already-frenzied Commonwealth Stadium to new raucous heights. But two plays later, he had a high pass glance of his hands and into the arms of Florida's Vernon Hargreaves for an interception that was returned 53 yards the other way to set up the Gators' first touchdown. Points are even tougher to come by against Mizzou, which has allowed only 29 all season, so Baker & Co. have to take full advantage of every opportunity they get on Saturday. 

4. Ryan Flannigan

Kentucky's senior weakside linebacker will be making his season debut after missing the first three weeks with a shoulder injury sustained in fall camp. While his backup, Khalid Henderson, has performed really well to date, this is the type of game where the Cats desperately needed Flannigan's elite athleticism back on the field. Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk is noted for his ability to run the ball and extend plays with his legs perhaps more so than his ability to win games with his arm. Last year, he had 14 carries for 75 yards against UK, helping the Tigers convert 10 of 20 third-down situations. If the Cats hope to beat Gary Pinkel's club for the first time since it entered the SEC, the Flannigan vs. Mauk matchup may be the most important of the day.

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