Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri coach Gary Pinkel isn’t accustomed to winning low-scoring games.
“We’re not usually sitting there 20-10, 20-13, those type of things,” Pinkel said. “I like the 10 and 13 part. I’d like to get the other one up a little bit higher.”
The Tigers will take that score for now, however, as a 20-10 defeat of Kentucky on Saturday gave Missouri sole possession of the Souteastern Conference East Division lead.
Missouri held the Wildcats to less than 300 total yards of offense, and the Tigers continued their defensive romp through SEC play.
A week after throwing for 390 yards against No. 1 Mississippi State, Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles threw for just 158 yards on 36 attempts, only six of which came in the first half.
Linebacker Kentrell Brothers said Missouri thought the Wildcats would pass more frequently, but Missouri was able to shut down Kentucky because of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel’s approach.
“That’s his one M.O. is we don’t let teams run on us,” Brothers said of Steckel. “A lot of teams, we’ve read comments in the papers saying they want to run the ball, and they get the run game going. Coach Stec makes sure that’s the one thing that they don’t get going. If they want to throw it, they can try to throw it, but they’re not going to be able to run on us.”
The Wildcats finished the day with 102 yards on 36 carries (2.8 avg.).
The Tigers also snapped Towles’ streak of 159 passes without an interception, which was the second-longest streak in school history. Cornerback Aarion Penton ended the streak in the second quarter with his third interception of the season.
Shane Ray capped off the win with a fourth-down sack on Kentucky’s final play, setting a Missouri single-season record with 12 sacks. The record of 11 1/2 sacks had been held by Aldon Smith and Michael Sam.
“Our players have got great respect for him,” Pinkel said. “He’s worked tremendously hard, and he performs at this high level all the time. He’s asking everybody else to do this, but as a leader, he’s doing it. … They love the guy because he loves the team.”
Ray said he knew he set the record when he made the sack.
“It was just very emotional for me,” Ray said. “Every defensive lineman that comes to Mizzou, of course, wants to break the Aldon Smith sack record, so just to be able to do that — the first thing I did is I thanked my teammates because without them I couldn’t have done it.”
Missouri got most of its scoring done in the second quarter. Maty Mauk threw touchdown passes to Bud Sasser from 3 and 26 yards.
“Bud’s just been playing great for us,” Pinkel said. “He’s stepping up. He’s the most experienced guy we got out there. Maty knows what (Bud is) doing a lot too, and Maty, he’s been around him more than the other guys.”
Mauk got off to a shaky start with a handful of overthrows but got got into a groove, completing 11 straight passes at one point.
“For sure, the offense was clicking,” said freshman Nate Brown, who had three catches for 27 yards. “Maty had time to throw, and when he’s back there he can make things happen.”
Mauk continued his success on the ground. He ran for a team-high 75 yards on 14 carries, many of which were designed runs.
But the offense, which has struggled in conference play, resorted to old tendencies in the second half, and Mauk finished the day 18-of-33 through the air for 164 yards.
Center Mitch Morse feels the offense still has plenty of room to grow.
“More than you even know,” he said. “A win’s a win, and every win in the SEC is a hard-fought win, but honestly, we have so much left on the table.”
Andrew Baggett made field goals in the third and fourth quarters from 41 and 21 yards, respectively, to secure the lead for Missouri. Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnins hit a second-quarter field goal from 47 yards out, and Towles threw a 1-yard score to Javess Blue with 3:26 left in the game, but the Tigers were in command for the majority of the game. Missouri won the time-of-possession battle in the first half, 19:18 to 10:42.
SEC East foe Georgia, which shut out Missouri 34-0 earlier in the year, fell to Florida on Saturday, putting Missouri in the driver’s seat in the division. If the Tigers win their remaining three conference games, they will return to the SEC Championship game for the second straight year.
Missouri players said they weren’t looking that far ahead.
“We’ve got to win every game we play, still,” linebacker Michael Scherer said. “It’s been the same thing from Day One. We’ve got to finish off the season and win the rest if we want to be back in the championship, so really, it’s on us. … We’ve just got to keep coming out every week and really executing.”