USA Today/Denny Medley

Breaking down "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly" from the Kentucky Wildcats' win over Missouri

In this edition of AW's "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly," we take a closer look at the Kentucky Wildcats' 35-21 win over Missouri.


Mythbusters ... It's long been held by a vast majority of Big Blue Nation that Kentucky cannot succeed in the SEC without utilizing something of a unique offense that throws the ball at least 50 times a game. New offensive coordinator Eddie Gran flatly rejected that notion from the moment he joined the UK staff, and Mark Stoops' decision to hire him away from Cincinnati is paying big dividends. Kentucky rushed for 377 yards on a punishing 59 carries against Mizzou. THREE HUNDRED, SEVENTY-SEVEN.  In the previous two wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State, it was 258 and 262, respectively. This isn't a fluke, folks. Vandy gives up 157 per game; MSU 154; Mizzou 218. Kentucky has developed an identity, and fans are starting to embrace the results. Three yards and a cloud of dust may not be fun, but 5.8 yards per carry over three weeks against SEC defenses -- the path to a bowl game now cleared by a road grader -- is making fans giddily embrace smashmouth football. 

Defensive Preparation ... The Cats forced Missouri -- the SEC's No. 1 offense going into this week -- to punt six consecutive times to begin the game and nine times on 13 possessions on the day. I cannot recall a time during my 20-plus years of covering UK football that the Cats have done that to a potent opponent. Kentucky held the Tigers to only 386 total yards, 119 under their league-leading season average. It was fantastic preparation from Stoops and his defensive staff, followed by terrific execution by the Cats. Perhaps most encouraging was that UK wasn't leaning on just one or two guys like it usually does. This season's leading tackler, Jordan Jones, had just four stops on the day. It was a solid team effort.

Patience & A Promise ... After Kentucky suffered a demoralizing loss to Southern Miss in the season opener -- a game which saw the Cats blow a 35-10 lead -- Mark Stoops stood tall in the face of heavy criticism and asked the fan base to stick with the Cats. "I promise you, as I said all year, this is a good football team," the UK boss said at his weekly Monday press luncheon after the stunning setback.  Many scoffed at that notion, but Stoops never blinked. "You’ve written plenty about starting (the season) good and not finishing, so what good does that do?" he asked reporters on Sept. 5. "It’s a 12-game season."  It's been a good lesson to fans and media alike to step back and allow a team to get better on the practice field as the season progresses. It looks like the first bowl bid of the Stoops Era is all but guaranteed now.

A Shot at History ... With a win at home next week over a susceptible Georgia squad, UK could break the .500 mark in SEC play for the first time since it went 6-0 during the 1977 season. The Cats have gone 3-3 on two occasions (1979 and 1984) and 4-4 on four occasions (1993, 1998, 1999, 2006) since that time, but have never posted another winning record against the nation's top conference.


So Close ... Thanks to Florida's 24-10 win Saturday over Georgia at "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," Kentucky will not move into first place in the SEC East to begin November. But the Cats were close, and that's something that hasn't happened this late in the season since Fran Curci was on the sidelines and Art Still was wreaking havoc on the field. After UK's 0-2 start, it was downright unthinkable last month.

Punting ... One of the things you'll hear Stoops stressed this week is getting punter Grant McKinniss back on track. The freshman appears to have hit something of a mental hurdle the last two or three weeks, and the Cats are paying a heavy price in the field position battle. On Saturday, the Cats' net punting average (yardage after the return) was 21.2, which included a 63-yard return by the Tigers to set up a 1-yard touchdown run. If UK has any hope in remaining games against Georgia, Tennessee, and Louisville, it has to be strong in the hidden yards that come along with the punting game.


Big Uglies ... Surprise! We're throwing you a curveball to start this section this week. Kentucky's offensive line was big and ugly and nasty all day long, garnering "Player of The Game" honors from both the SEC Network and the UK Radio Network for their collective performance. Center Jon Toth led the way, underscoring why he's one of the best anchors in all of college football. He was flanked by strong performances by guards Nick Haynes, Bunchy Stallings, Logan Stenberg and Ramsey Meyers. Cole Mosier was fantastic at left tackle. Landon Young, Kyle Meadows and George Asafo-Adjei rounded out the unit that paved the way to 582 yards of total offense, committed just one five-yard penalty which came long after the game had been decided, and did not allow a sack.

Major Sports at Mizzou ... The Tigers were a fantastic addition to the SEC when they joined the league in 2012 -- even winning a couple of East Division championships before one could get used to the idea that they were actually in the conference -- but it's shaping up to be a brutal year for the good folks out in Columbia. The Tigers are in rebuilding mode after the retirement of Gary Pinkel, and, unfortunately, it doesn't look like basketball season is going to be much of a remedy for the Mizzou faithful. Kim Anderson's squad was picked to finish last during the recent SEC Basketball Media Days vote. 

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