Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The ninth-ranked Missouri Tigers will attempt to continue their reign atop the SEC's Eastern Division standings on Saturday afternoon, as they hit the road to tangle with the Kentucky Wildcats.
After suffering a heartbreaking 27-24 double-overtime setback to South Carolina on Oct. 26, Missouri bounced back in impressive fashion last week with a 31-3 triumph over Tennessee in a performance that came as no surprise to its head coach.
"I would have been very surprised if we didn't (move on from the loss to South Carolina)," coach Gary Pinkel said. "We closed that door quick. We talked about it Sunday that we were going to move on. There is so much out there and I think they understood that. You can't do anything about the week before except learn a lesson. We applied it today and we will apply it next week."
At 4-1 in league play, the Tigers still control their own destiny in the SEC East, as they sit a game up on both South Carolina and Georgia in the loss column. A win in this matchup will give them their seventh season of at least nine wins, previously accomplishing the feat under Pinkel in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
As for Kentucky, it has suffered through another difficult season, going just 2-6 overall and 0-4 in the SEC. The Wildcats boosted morale with a 48-14 victory over FCS foe Alabama State last weekend, and they are looking forward to the challenge of hosting a top-10 team.
"(It's) been an exciting week for us, big challenge," coach Mark Stoops said. "Missouri is a very good football team, as we all know. It'll be a great challenge for us."
Last season, Missouri won the first meeting between the teams since 1968, 33-10, to take a 2-1 advantage in the all-time series.
Missouri boasts one of the nation's top offenses this season, ranking 13th in scoring (40.6 ppg) and 15th in yardage (500.0 ypg), but in the three games James Franklin has missed with a shoulder injury, the unit's production has slowed slightly to 30.3 ppg.
Expected to start under center once again is Maty Mauk, who despite completing less than 49 percent of his passes, has shown promise with 748 yards and five touchdowns to go with some impressive rushing totals as well (136 yards, TD).
With Franklin sidelined, the Tigers have relied even more heavily on a strong rushing attack (237.2 ypg), as they amassed 339 yards on the ground versus Tennessee last week. The backfield split is paced by Henry Josey with 647 yards and eight touchdown, although Russell Hansbrough (510 yards, four TDs) and Marcus Murphy (454 yards, seven TDs) both average at least 6.8 yards per carry.
L'Damian Washington is having an outstanding season out wide, ranking fifth in the SEC in receiving yards (680) and second in touchdowns (nine). Marcus Murphy (43 receptions, 522 yards, two TDs) and Dorial Green-Beckham (33 receptions, 479 yards, five TDs) are also bona fide playmakers.
Missouri's stout defense (20.6 ppg, 388.8 ypg) has been just as important in its ascent in the national rankings. Last week's performance was a high-water mark for the season, as the unit forced three turnovers in holding Tennessee to just three points.
Michael Sam has put himself square in the All-American discussion with a fantastic season at defensive end, racking up 16.0 TFL and 10.0 sacks. Andrew Wilson leads the defense with 64 tackles, while E.J. Gaines (four INTs), Kentrell Brothers (three INTs) and Markus Golden (INT, two FR) have been active in the quest for turnovers.
Kentucky helped pad its offensive stats in last week's 48-point outburst, but it still has the SEC's 12th-ranked unit both in terms of scoring (24.0 ppg) and yardage (357.6 ypg).
Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith had been splitting time under center all season, but Whitlow emerged last week with 287 total yards and four touchdowns. He now has 690 passing yards (65.0 percent completions) and five touchdowns to go with strong rushing numbers (351 yards, five TDs).
In addition to Whitlow, the Wildcats generate solid rushing numbers with Jojo Kemp (390 yards, two TDs) and Raymond Sanders (370 yards, two TDs) leading the charge.
The team could be without its top two pass catchers in Javess Blue (28 receptions, 345 yards, two TDs) and Ryan Timmons (27 receptions, 295 yards, two TDs), both of whom are listed as questionable with injuries, leaving Demarco Robinson (12 receptions, 140 yards, two TDs) as the healthiest option.
Defensively, Kentucky has performed admirably considering it is often put in poor positions by its lackluster offense, and the unit is allowing 27.2 ppg. The Wildcats have only picked off one pass this season.
Avery Williamson is one of the SEC's top tacklers with 76 stops. Alvin Dupree (7.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks, two FF) and Za'Darius Smith (5.5 sacks) also contribute to a strong front seven.