Yikes. Missouri had everything to play for. Vanderbilt had just been hammered at home by a bad UNLV team. This should have been a routine victory for Mizzou against the Commodores. Not only was the game anything but routine; it didn’t even deliver a victory.
Now the Tigers have no margin for error in the SEC East. They don’t have a game to play with before facing Georgia and Florida in November. This is a must-win game against Kentucky if the Tigers want to remain in the SEC East hunt. The game keys are not that hard to arrive at in light of last week’s shocker at Vanderbilt.
1 – Road game energy
Missouri is one example of a team which plays so well at home and so much worse on the road. Football is supposed to be football. The principles which apply to winning are no different in Nashville or Lexington from Columbia. Yet, for Mizzou and other teams, the location of a game and the result of a game are often connected. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is. The Tigers have to find a way to display home-game-level passion in a road setting. If they can’t, this game will go down to the wire, much as last year’s Kentucky game did. Great teams show up on a consistent basis, not just at home.
2 – Third downs and other leverage plays
Missouri was terrible on third down against Vanderbilt, converting just 3 of 15 attempts. It is hard to be that bad, but Mizzou pulled it off. The Tigers also wasted trips deep into Vanderbilt territory, failing on every high-leverage offensive snap in that game and wasting a solid if not spectacular performance from the defense. When third-down and short-field success rates are as awful as they were for Missouri this past weekend, everyone in the locker room has to be accountable and make appropriate adjustments for this game. This includes the placekicking unit as well, which missed multiple field goals as part of this past Saturday’s horror show against Vanderbilt.
Missouri’s offensive line had its worst game of the season. There is simply no reason for the Tigers to get outplayed by a defensive line which was unable to contain UNLV’s offense, or allowed 66 points to LSU. Missouri’s 12 penalties were a sign of the extent to which the Tigers sleepwalked through this game. The offensive line has to take that game personally and play with focused anger against Kentucky, especially on third downs and in the red zone.
3 – Vertical passing
Missouri completed only five passes of 10 yards or more against Vanderbilt. That is embarrassing. This offense should be able to generate 10-yard pass plays in its sleep. Effort, offensive line play, quarterbacking, and everything else one could possibly imagine were all on the “off” switch against Vanderbilt. Missouri has to make a point of striking quickly down the field against Kentucky’s defense and showing that what the Wildcats saw on film study is NOT the team UK will play this Saturday.