Having a bye the week after playing ultra-physical Alabama, the top-ranked team in the nation, seems appropriate. The Saturday without a game gave the Tigers (3-4, 0-4 in Southeastern Conference games) a chance to rest their bodies and refocus near the middle of what has been a challenging season.
Missouri returns to action at Faurot Field on Saturday with the Homecoming game against Kentucky (11 a.m. on ESPNU). Playing the Wildcats (1-7, 0-5 in SEC play) at home presents a great chance to get for Missouri to get that elusive first SEC win. With it being Homecoming, this game should have a bigger, more enthusiastic crowd than your average matchup of teams with no conference wins.
Kentucky’s struggles this season have put coach Joker Phillips on the hot seat, but the Wildcats did put up a competitive fight against South Carolina and Georgia, both talented SEC East teams.
For any SEC team, particularly this year, losing to Kentucky in football is disaster.
To ensure that doesn’t happen, Missouri would do well to get ahead early. When a team loses frequently, there’s usually a “here we go again” feeling when they fall behind. Also, Kentucky doesn’t really have the passing game to come from behind. An early lead would also get the crowd going, which can be a problem in 11 a.m. kickoff games.
But let the Wildcats hang around, even fall behind to them? Then Missouri would feel the weight of the aforementioned disaster looming overhead, and Kentucky could start to believe. With Missouri being the “new kid” in the SEC East and 0-4 in SEC play, Kentucky could view this as one of its better chances to notch an SEC win this season.
Beyond putting Kentucky in its place early on, it would be good for Missouri to put a lot of bodies near the line of scrimmage to shut down the Kentucky running game and dare the Wildcats to beat them with the pass. With starting quarterback Maxwell Smith out indefinitely with a torn ankle ligament, the Wildcats’ passing offense has struggled. (Not that their rushing attack has been much of a prize, either.)
Getting this win is necessary for the Tigers’ push to make it to 6-6 and qualify for a bowl game.
Making a bowl is a fairly minimal standard given the bloated slate of bowls, but it would still be big for Missouri to make it to one given the struggles of this season. The Tigers have made it to a bowl in seven straight seasons, and they would dearly like to keep some momentum going by making it eight straight.
The two remaining home games, Saturday against Kentucky and Nov. 17 against Syracuse, are must-haves to reach a bowl. If they get those two, the Tigers would need one win in the three remaining road games to get to 6-6. The Nov. 10 game at Tennessee is probably the best chance, followed by the season finale at Texas A&M. The Nov. 3 game at No. 2 Florida is likely out of reach, however.
But before that, it all starts with getting a win against struggling Kentucky on Saturday.