UK wilts after fake punt in loss to Missouri

Published 4:19 pm Monday, October 16, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

One play changed everything.

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Missouri used a fake punt to counter a fast start by Kentucky and the Tigers rolled to a 38-21 win over the Wildcats Saturday night at Kroger Field.

Kentucky scored on its first two possessions and led 14-0 going into the second quarter. Facing a fourth-and-10 from the Kentucky 39-yard line, the Tigers gambled and scored on a fake punt that led to 20 unanswered points.

“It is one of those plays that feels like it punches you right in the gut,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “And we didn’t respond very good after that.”

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz agreed.

“That just changed the momentum,” he said. “I think we went on a 38-7 run right there. The defense was forcing big-time takeaways, which is what we stressed all week.”

The loss was the second straight for the Wildcats, who opened with five consecutive wins before dropping a 51-13 setback to top-ranked Georgia in Athens last week. It appeared the Wildcats (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) had gotten past the embarrassing loss to the Bulldogs in the first quarter, but Kentucky fell apart in the final three quarters.

Kentucky’s offense exploded for 151 yards in the first quarter but  managed just 135 yards the remainder of the contest. The offensive line surrendered four sacks for minus 31 yards, while dropped passes and costly penalties proved to be too much for the Wildcats to overcome. Kentucky was flagged 14 times for a loss of 122 yards.

“The lack of discipline is really something that’s standing out and bothering me,’ Stoops said. “We have not been perfect over the years by any stretch, but we’ve had more discipline than we had right now and that is something that is inexcusable. We have to take care of the football and we have to eliminate penalties and then, obviously, get to work and get better in certain areas.”

Signal caller Devin Leary threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats were in desperation mode. When efficient and not under pressure, he threw for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought he was really turning the corner and we have to help him as the whole organization, whether protection, play calls, or catching the ball,” Stoops said. “We need to step up and work and develop, and that’s what we have to do here this week. We have to get guys healthy but we have to get some of the other guys better to finish this season off.

Kentucky running back Ray Davis rushed for 128 yards and had a 7-yard catch in the first quarter for a touchdown.

One win away from clinching bowl eligibility, Kentucky will have a bye week Saturday before playing host to Tennessee on Oct. 28.