LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops believes his team is capable of winning decisively, despite its history of squeaking by opponents.
The Wildcats’ four wins have come by a total margin of 32 points. A last-second interception preserved last week’s 24-20 escape of Eastern Michigan and left players and Stoops feeling they should have played much better.
But Kentucky has held the lead in most of its games and the Wildcats (4-1, 1-1) believe they are on the verge of a breakout performance. The Wildcats are determined to be more dominant from start to finish in Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference game against Missouri (1-3, 0-2).
“After watching the film, we played very good on defense and very good on special teams,” said Stoops, whose team had a season-low 228 yards on offense. “Offensively, we’ll get it fixed but there’s no (pressing the) panic button.
“You just look at the things and get them fixed and move on. Some are easy and some are difficult. There’s going to be games when we’re going to have to outscore people.”
Homecoming should add motivation for Kentucky to put it all together. The contest is the first of six consecutive SEC matchups the Wildcats hope will vault them into Eastern Division contention after a crushing loss to Florida. They lead the series 4-3, and a third straight win against Mizzou can even their SEC record at 6.
The Tigers had a bye following three straight losses, including SEC defeats to South Carolina and No. 12 Auburn . They were outscored 117-30 in that stretch, which made the off week welcome.
Mizzou coach Barry Odom said the down time has allowed his team to heal after the opening month left them banged up. The Tigers also look forward to beginning road play.
But Odom doesn’t want players to press in search of their first SEC win.
“If you’ve prepared the right way, you let it happen and go make plays and don’t stress too much,” Odom said. “Usually when that happens, you can play freely.”
Here are other things to watch as Kentucky hosts Missouri:
SPECIAL MOMENTS: Kentucky’s special teams have been impressive the past two weeks, especially against Eastern Michigan. The Wildcats converted a blocked punt into the decisive touchdown against the Eagles and recovered a fumbled punt. Kicker Austin MacGinnis (298 points) is just seven away from becoming the Wildcats’ career scoring leader after breaking the record for field goals. Charles Walker has also had several good punt returns that have shortened the field for the offense. “We can do a lot better, but I like where we are,” special teams coach Dean Hood said.
ROAD WOES: The Tigers struggled offensively while losing all five road games last season, averaging 18 points per game compared to 41 points at home. This year, Missouri scored 72 points in a season-opening win over Missouri State but has averaged just 10 points per game in losses to South Carolina, Purdue and Auburn. “It may be good for us, because on either side of the ball we haven’t played that well at home” this season, Odom said.
GROUND IT OUT: Kentucky is anxious to reboot its rushing game after gaining a season-low 53 yards on 37 carries last week. The Wildcats gained 377 yards rushing against Mizzou last year in Columbia including 192 by Benny Snell.
DEFENSELESS: Missouri enters the game ranked last in the SEC and 109th nationally in total defense with an average of 452.5 yards allowed per game. The Tigers are coming off a loss in which they yielded 482 yards of offense and allowed Auburn to score on all four red zone chances in the first half of a 51-14 rout .
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Columbia, Missouri contributed to this story.
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