Wendell Shepherd- 23 Sports

The Missouri Tigers traveled to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats for their first road SEC game of the season on Saturday. The Tigers come into the game with a 1-0 record for the first time since 2018 following last weekend’s 34-24 victory against Central Michigan University. For head coach Eli Drinkwitz and many players, it was the first road SEC game in front of a packed stadium.

The Wildcats received the ball first and immediately put pressure on the Tigers defense. Kentucky receiver Wan’Dale Robinson began the drive with a 64 yard rush which brought the ball deep into Mizzou territory, kicking off a dominant night on the ground for the Wildcats. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown reception to give the Wildcats an early 7-0 lead.

A short Mizzou possession quickly let the Wildcat offense back on the field. A defensive pass interference call and a few long rushes set up Kentucky’s Rodriguez for another touchdown. This time, coming on the ground from two yards out.

Mizzou’s Tyler Badie, following a career day on the ground against Central Michigan, helped the Tigers get back in the game. A 24-yard catch and run and a 14-yard carry got the Tigers into the red zone. Quarterback Connor Bazelak got the lead back to seven with a short pass that tight end Daniel Parker Jr. brought down in the end zone for his first score as a Tiger.

On the first play of the Wildcats’ next drive, defensive back Jaylon Carlies intercepted a tipped pass. An untimely holding penalty kept the Tiger offense from capitalizing on the turnover. Two chunk pass plays from Kentucky quarterback Will Levis got the Wildcats back in the red zone where he carried the ball in himself from three yards out to give his squad a 21-7 lead.

A couple of drives later, the Wildcats were knocking on the door again when Carlies forced another turnover. This time, he forced a fumble in the Wildcat endzone that was recovered by linebacker Chad Bailey. With 1:46 remaining on the clock before the half, Bazelak marched the offense down the field and found wide receiver Keke Chism in the corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown to bring the game within seven before the half.

Looking to tie the game up before giving the ball back to Kentucky, Bazelak was picked off on the first play from scrimmage to begin the second half. Kentucky capitalized on the miscue and continued their rushing dominance to push in another rushing touchdown. That put the game at 28-14.

Bazelak responded on the following drive by leading the offense 75 yards downfield where he found Parker Jr. in the endzone for his second score of the game.

Fast forward to the fourth quarter, Badie struck again on a 16-yard catch and run. He broke through Kentucky arm tackles to scamper into the end zone and tie the game at 28. The Mizzou defense struggled to hold Kentucky’s attack at bay, giving up back-to-back 28-yard plays. One was on the ground and one was in the air. The drive appeared to end with another Kentucky fumble on the goal line but a Wildcat lineman quickly pounced on the ball in the end zone to recapture the lead.

After Kentucky forced a Mizzou punt and drove back into the red zone to line up a field goal, the game seemed to be put away. Lineman Blaze Alldredge had different plans, rushing up the middle and batting down the kick to keep the deficit at seven. That gave the Tigers the ball back with a little over two minutes to play. In addition to the heroic block, Alldredge led the team with 13 tackles, eight of which were solo.

With two minutes remaining, Bazelak pushed the Tigers downfield in an attempt to send the game to overtime. After crossing the 50-yard line, Bazelak was sacked hard, coming up visibly in pain. On the ensuing 4th-down play, Bazelak was unable to connect with receiver Dominic Lovett. The ball was turned over on downs and the Tigers threat was ended. Kentucky captured the first win of SEC play by a score of 35-28.

For a game that was decided by only a possession, the box score says otherwise. The Wildcats dominated the stat sheet despite the two turnovers, totaling 520 yards on offense to Mizzou’s 398. 341 of those yards came on the ground.

Bazelak threw for a career-high four touchdowns to go along with 298 yards in the air. Badie continued to show out with the ball in his hands by leading the Tigers in both rushing and receiving, totaling 149 yards from the scrimmage. Badie’s 10 catches were the most by a Tiger since 2018.

Drinkwitz and his team knew coming in that this game would be a challenge, facing a talented transfer quarterback in a hostile environment. However, the Tigers fought well despite getting beaten up by the run.

The Tigers will look to continue their strong offensive performance and shore up their defense next Saturday. They will return home to take on Southeast Missouri State at 11 am. The Tigers and the Redhawks last met in 2019 when the Tigers won handily 50-0. Saturday’s game will air on SEC Network Plus.