The Kentucky Wildcats will prove to be an early test for the Missouri football team
The expectations for the season run through Kroger Field.
The Kentucky Wildcats, led by head coach Mark Stoops, may be the biggest wildcard game of the year. Despite the varying predictions about the game, Drinkwiz does not downplay the importance of it at all, saying the Week 2 matchup will “absolutely going to be a tremendous challenge”.
Here’s what Drinkwitz said to reporters in a video shared by ESPN:
"“Like any game in this league, it is going to be a tremendous challenge. I think what you have to do is focus on who you are and what you want to become and play to your strengths. That is obviously what we are going to do.”"
When talking about winning the SEC East, Kentucky was the first opponent that Drinkwitz brought up. That is how important this game is for the Tigers.
While early-season matchups may not age well, this is a good time for the Tigers to face the Wildcats. Kentucky is has a new offensive coordinator in Liam Coen. While Coen may be from the Sean McVay coaching tree, Coen has little passing talent or offensive weapons to work with. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Joey Gatewood has 43 pass attempts to his name and little optimism about his growth in 2021.
Where Kentucky did excel in is the rushing attack, led by redshirt sophomore Chirs Rodriguez Jr. He is one of the top returning SEC running backs, finishing in the SEC’s top half for rushing yards and touchdowns in 2020. This trend is likely to continue, as Kentucky was 2nd in the SEC for total rushing yards in 2020.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kentucky fielded a top-five defense in the SEC, for total yards and points per game allowed. While Missouri only scored 20 points against the Wildcats in 2020, the length of drives and total time of possession were staggering.
The Tigers had a stout gameplan, on offense and defense, against the Wildcats in 2020. Missouri leaned heavily on the rushing attack against Kentucky, outrushing their opponent 220 yards to 95 yards. Rountree touted the importance of the rushing attack to their victory.
Here’s what Rountree told reporters after the Missouri football team defeated the Kentucky Wildcats last season, as shared in a video by ABC 17 News:
"“Coach [Drinkwitz] saidwe were going to run the ball. The game was going to be won in the trenches today, on both sides. Establish the run and keep running.”"
Look for more of the same with senior running back Tyler Badie leading the charge. While Badie may not be the same bell-cow running back as Rountree, he is still a. very capable replacement. He also makes up for what he lacks rushing in his receiving ability, a trait that Drinkwitz will certainly utilize in his second year.
Besides the stats and the records, there is the mental importance of this game.
Prior to the 2020 win in Columbia, Kentucky beat Missouri five times in a row. Drinkwitz’s inaugural season may have already been a success snapping that losing streak.
There is certainly bad blood between the two schools, as Rountree claimed that Kentucky players were faking injuries in the 2020 matchup.
"“They couldn’t function, so they had to have guys fall down and act like they were hurt when they weren’t really hurt.”"
Now, the Tigers look to end their eight game losing streaking in Lexington, Kentucky, and climb up the SEC East standings.
The importance of the game is hard to ignore.
The Wildcats are the second game on the schedule and the SEC opener for both teams. While the Wildcat’s opener against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks is hardly a test of itself, this game early in the season will set the tone for both teams.