1. Missouri running backs vs. Kentucky run defense
Missouri couldn’t establish a run game against Vanderbilt. The Tigers' three running backs combined for 81 yards against the Commodores, their lowest net total of the season. Kentucky allowed 235 rushing yards to Georgia last week. Larry Rountree is sure to get a lot of work for Missouri on Saturday and has responded each time this season after falling below expectations during a game. Kentucky is aware of his potential, but so was Ole Miss, and Rountree still ran for 126 yards against the Rebels.
Edge: Missouri running backs
2. Tigers’ defensive backs vs. Wildcats’ offense
With Tyree Gillespie sitting out the first half against Kentucky because of a targeting penalty in the third quarter against Vanderbilt, a rotation of players will fill the void left by the junior safety. Martez Manuel is slated to get his first collegiate start against Kentucky, while other defensive backs such as Ronnell Perkins, Khalil Oliver and Joshuah Bledsoe will also fill in. Does that rotation give Kentucky a place to attack Missouri before Gillespie enters the game after halftime?
Edge: Tigers’ defensive backs
3. Kelly Bryant vs. Kentucky defense
Missouri’s starting quarterback had his worst performance of the season in Nashville. While the Tigers’ run attack and wide receivers can shoulder a little bit of responsibility for that, Bryant didn’t do much to get out of his own way, only completing two passes in the second half. Bryant led Missouri in rush yards against Vanderbilt, but it wasn’t enough to get MU the victory. Does Bryant’s spark return against the Wildcats? Is there some familiarity with Bryant because Kentucky gets to see versatile Lynn Bowden Jr. in practice?
Edge: Kelly Bryant
4. Lynn Bowden Jr. vs. Missouri defense
The receiver-turned-quarterback after the season-ending injury to Terry Wilson was described by Missouri head coach Barry Odom as “one of the best players in college football." Odom added he expects to see Sawyer Smith, the Wildcats’ also-injured backup quarterback, back in the lineup Saturday. That’s a move that would push Bowden back to wide receiver. No matter where Bowden is lined up on the field, how does Missouri stop him? If Bowden is behind center, Missouri’s rush defense will need to be prepared.
Edge: Lynn Bowden Jr.
5. Barry Odom vs. Mark Stoops
Both were defensive assistants before becoming head coaches and are in their first tenures atop a college program. Odom said he was out-coached by Derek Mason in the loss to Vanderbilt. He had a similar tone after the loss to Wyoming and then led the Tigers to five straight wins. Stoops earned Southeastern Conference coach of the year honors last season. After a few playmakers graduated, how does Stoops lift his team to keep the positive results going against Missouri?
Edge: Barry Odom