Notebook: Kentucky brings stout defense, strong run game to Columbia

Changes in the secondary and the return of Richaud Floyd headline this week's events as the Tigers look for an elusive high quality win.
Josh Allen makes a tackle during the game against Central Michigan on Saturday, September 1, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Chase Phillips | The Kentucky Kernel

Missouri (4-3, 0-3) hosts the No. 12 Kentucky Wildcats (6-1, 4-1) at Faurot Field this weekend after a rebound homecoming win over Memphis that saw Missouri tally nine touchdowns. It was a reawakening for an offense with explosive potential but that went dormant the three previous weeks.

Kickoff against Kentucky will be 3 p.m. CT Saturday. The game will be televised on SEC Network.

What to expect from Kentucky

When the Wildcats come to Columbia, they will bring a stout defense and run-heavy offense that likes to milk the clock and hand it off to star tailback Benny Snell Jr. Kentucky is second in the country in scoring prevention, allowing 12.9 points per game.

The defense is led by linebacker Josh Allen, who has three forced fumbles and is the one of the most formidable pass rushers Missouri has faced so far this season.

Missouri has 11 sacks this season compared to Allen’s eight.

Snell and quarterback Terry Wilson lead the ground game, which runs on 69 percent of snaps and averages 231.5 yards per game on the ground.

“All their guys play a physical style of football,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said.

Snell leads the SEC in rushing yards and averages 5.4 per carry, adding to the recent stable of top running backs Missouri has faced. Wilson is also involved on the ground with 395 yards and three touchdowns on the season.

“Benny is as good as there is in the country,” coach Barry Odom said. “He’s a strong, powerful guy; when it looks like there’s not anything there and you look around, he’s broken off and found a way to get 20 yards.”

Missouri has had success against top backs, holding opponents to 3.68 yards per carry with the country’s No. 36 rush defense.

Youth stepping up for offense

Albert Okwuegbunam was the shining star last Saturday for Missouri’s offense. He finished with a single-game, career-best 159 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

However, true freshman Jalen Knox was right behind him with 104 yards on five catches. He also hauled in a touchdown Saturday and reined in another SEC freshman of the week honor for the performance. It’s his second this season.

Okwuegbunam said Tuesday just how impactful Knox’s performance was, considering the team was without seniors Nate Brown and Emanuel Hall.

“With the injuries we had outside at wideout, we needed freshmen to step up and … I’m especially proud of Knox for making big plays and playing as well as he has,” Okwuegbunam said.

So far this season, Knox has 384 yards receiving on 20 catches, as well as three scores, but he’s not the only freshman who’s stepped up.

Tyler Badie tacked on 41 yards rushing in the win at Memphis, but he’s made his impact felt at several points this season, playing a key part in Missouri’s final drive at Purdue.

On top of that, eight of the nine touchdowns scored against Memphis were scored by sophomores or freshmen. It’s easy to forget, but Okwuegbunam and Larry Rountree III, who also found the endzone three times last week, are young too.

Emanuel Hall back with team

Emanuel Hall returned to practice this week after the death of his father and was wearing a red non-contact jersey with Brown at practice this morning. Hall’s status for Saturday is still unknown.

Odom said Hall was limited in practice, but he looked better than he has over the last five weeks. Odom said everyone beside Brown and Hall would be healthy this weekend.

With Hall and Brown both inching closer to playing, Missouri is closer to having the whole crew back together on the outside.

“When we have Jalen, myself, [Hall] and Nate [Brown] back on the outside it’s going to be one of the best receiving corps in America,” junior Richaud Floyd said. “With JJ and [Dominic] Gicinto and Barrett on the inside and then Albert and Kendall, I don’t think anyone else … can go like that in a game.”

Floyd also back

Last Saturday, redshirt junior receiver Richaud Floyd made his return after missing the first five games with a broken right leg.

Floyd caught a 17-yard pass from Lock to move the team into the red zone and was finally back after a long wait.

“I felt like a freshman all over again,” Floyd said. “Just getting back on the field for the first time and catching a ball and just trying to find some contact.”

After the first catch, Floyd finished with three catches for 28 yards.

“It’s just like riding a bicycle; as the game got on I got stronger and I played better,” Floyd said.

Floyd is now listed as the starting receiver opposite Knox and will get more playing time this week to help pick up the slack from the injuries at the position this season.

The preseason All-American punt returner is still listed as the backup returner behind slot receiver Johnathon Johnson, but he’s working his way to knock off the rust and get back into the position.

Floyd led the SEC with two punt return scores on 11 total returns last season.

“I’m just trying to work into it slowly,” Floyd said. “When the opportunity comes I’ll be ready for it and I feel I can add an element to that team and score some touchdowns.”

Changes in starting secondary

After starts in the last two games, Tyree Gillespie and Christian Holmes were officially moved to the top of the depth chart this morning.

Holmes has two of the team’s four interceptions this year, including a 42-yard pick six last week against Memphis, and is tied with DeMarkus Acy for the team lead with six pass breakups.

Holmes replaces Adam Sparks as the second cornerback with Acy, while Gillespie replaces graduate transfer Khalil Oliver as free safety to join Cam Hilton in the secondary.

Walters said Gillespie was the fastest player on the Tiger defense.

“Tyree [Gillespie] is as athletic as they come,” Walters said. “I don’t think it’s close really. He’s fast, man, and at 215 [pounds] that’s impressive.”

Gillespie has two QB hits and one pass breakup in limited playing time, while Oliver has just one pass breakup in the starting role this season.

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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