Missouri’s Defense Needs a Big Game Against No. 24 Kentucky

Photo Cred: Lexington Herald Leader

After a challenging outing against LSU last weekend, Mizzou’s defense is looking to rebound as they travel to Lexington, Kentucky to take on the Kentucky Wildcats. The Tigers have much to prove in its third Southeastern Conference matchup of the season.

Recent Defensive Struggles

Blake Baker’s defense has encountered some difficulties in the past few games. Over the last three games, Missouri yielded 97 points, including 49 against LSU last Saturday. 

The Missouri Tigers struggled to contain QB Jayden Daniels and the LSU Tigers’ offense. Mike Denbrock’s offense amassed 533 total yards in the game. Brian Kelly’s team rushed for 274 yards, with running back Logan Diggs leading the way with 134 yards and a touchdown. Daniels himself accumulated 130 yards and one rushing touchdown. MU also had trouble defending Louisiana State’s passing game, as Daniels finished with 259 yards and three touchdowns to three different wide receivers.

LSU 49-39 Missouri (Oct 7, 2023) Final Score - ESPN

Photo Cred: ESPN 

For much of the matchup against Vanderbilt, Missouri held its own. The fourth quarter, however, is when the Tigers’ defense started to falter in their 38-21 victory over the Commodores. MU gave up touchdowns in back-to-back defensive possessions, which allowed Vanderbilt to stay in the game. Commodores QB Ken Seals connected with WR Will Sheppard on a 31-yard touchdown on the second play of the drive, and the QB also found WR Junior Sherrill for a 45-yard touchdown. Baker’s defense allowed Seals to put up 259 yards and two touchdowns in their matchup a few weeks ago.

Memphis-Missouri football: Best, worst from Tigers' crushing loss

Photo Cred: The Commercial Appeal

MU also faced defensive struggles in their 34-27 victory over Memphis in September. UofM QB Seth Henigan threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns. Similar to their matchup with Vanderbilt, Mizzou allowed two passing touchdowns in the second half. Henigan connected with RB Blake Watson for a 13-yard touchdown with a little over four minutes remaining in the third quarter. With 1:21 left in the contest, Henigan threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to WR Koby Drake to narrow MU’s lead to 34-27. Memphis also rushed for 83 yards against the Tigers’ defense.

Facing Kentucky’s Offense

MU’s defense will have their hands full against Kentucky’s offense. The most notable player for the Wildcats’ offense is RB Ray Davis, who ranks seventh in the nation in total rushing yards. He’s recorded 653 yards and eight touchdowns on 91 carries this season and has played a huge role in UK’s success with multiple standout performances. Davis’ most impressive showing came against Florida a couple of weeks ago, where he ran for 280 yards and three touchdowns. To secure victory on Saturday, Missouri must find a way to contain Davis. 

The Tigers will also square off against QB Devin Leary, who has thrown for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns through six games. Despite a lopsided loss to Georgia (51-13) last weekend, the QB had a solid performance with 128 yards and two touchdowns. Leary’s most impressive display up to this point was in Kentucky’s season-opening victory over Eastern Kentucky, where he recorded four touchdowns and 299 yards. The senior, who spent the last three seasons as the starting QB at NC State, has guided Kentucky to a 5-1 record this year so far.

UK Football signs Devin Leary, Ray Davis, Tanner Bowles, Jantzen Dunn and more - A Sea Of Blue

Photo Cred: A Sea Of Blue

Baker’s defense will also go up against WR Tayvion Robinson, who has been the standout for UK’s receivers through six games. He has 317 yards and three touchdowns on 21 receptions. WR Dane Key is another formidable threat for the Wildcats, with 261 yards and two touchdowns thus far. MU’s defense needs to be wary of sophomore receiver Barion Brown.

Missouri’s Defensive Weapons

Missouri boasts multiple notable players on their defense who have excelled this season. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper and defensive back Joseph Charleston lead the Tigers in tackles, with 35 total tackles (23 solo) and 31 tackles (22 solo), respectively. DB Kris Abrams-Draine has 28 total tackles (22 solo), while fellow DB Daylan Carnell has 28 tackles (12 solo).

Top 5 junior Missouri football players expected to make an impact in 2023 - PowerMizzou

Photo Cred: PowerMizzou 

Abrams-Draine also leads the Tigers’ defense with three interceptions, picking off his opposing QB three consecutive games. This included an interception against Kansas State in the first quarter, shifting momentum in Missouri’s 30-27 victory over them. Sophomore DB Marcus Clarke had an interception in the fourth quarter of MU’s victory over Memphis. Defensive lineman Johnny Walker Jr. leads the defense with three sacks in Baker’s system. 

Five more players have played crucial roles for Missouri’s defense this year: DLs Josh Landry and Darius Robinson, LB Chad Bailey, and DBs Jaylon Carlies and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. However, Rakestraw has been ruled out for Saturday’s matchup due to a groin injury.


Missouri will kickoff against Kentucky at 6:30 P.M. CT at Kroger Field, with the game broadcast on SEC Network.

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