Ray, defense swing Tigers to victory

Ray has at least four more games to add to his record single-season sack total.
Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Shane Ray hugs Coach Gary Pinkel after beating Missouri's single-season sack record on Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, at Memorial Stadium at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. Missouri beat Kentucky 20-10.

Shane Ray picked himself up off of Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, then he spun. And then he swung.

Ray swung his imaginary baseball bat with such dramatized force, the ball in his mind probably would’ve crossed Stadium Boulevard.

He had reason to be excited. It was his 12th sack of the season, which broke the Missouri single-season record.

“I wish I coulda swung for Salvy in the World Series,” Ray, a Kansas City native, said of Royals catcher Salvador Perez’ game-ending flyout in Wednesday’s World Series Game 7. “I feel like Bumgarner wouldn’t (have) struck me out.”

The sack, Ray’s second in Mizzou’s 20-10 win over the Wildcats, also had great importance in the moment: It was one of four fourth-down stops by the Tiger defense Saturday.

The stops were part of a strong defensive performance by Mizzou, its third-straight. In its past three games, Missouri has given up an average of 12.33 points per contest.

Kentucky’s 10-point game came on the heels of a 504-yard, 31-point performance against No. 1 Mississippi State last weekend. Against Missouri, the Wildcats were just two of 16 on third down.

Towles, who threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 76 yards against Mississippi State, had just 158 yards and one touchdown through the air to go along with zero yards in 11 rushing attempts.

Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 5.7 yards per play, averaged 3.6 against Missouri.

“They have played people really, really well,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “I thought we executed well on defense, for the most part.”

Towles was just three for six in the first half for 14 yards, having thrown an interception to sophomore cornerback Aarion Penton.

The Kentucky quarterback threw 31 more times in the second half and found some success on a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to bring Kentucky within 10 with under four minutes to play. But it turned out to be the Wildcats’ only score of the second half.

“We understand that those guys are going to make plays too,” Ray said. “They’re Division I athletes just like we are. The key to battling through adversity is continuing to go out there and battle and give that same level of intensity.”

Ray said intensity has been carrying the Mizzou defense. Recently, the Mizzou defense has been carrying these Tigers. In Mizzou’s Southeastern Conference victories, the Tiger defense has kept opponents’ point total low, and given the offense a cushion for its struggles.

It’s different than last year, when Mizzou averaged 39.1 points per game. The team’s modus operandi, at least recently, is to rely on its defense and game plan for the offense to do just enough.

Pinkel said Mizzou is “calling the game a little bit different,” running more and emphasizing time of possession. And though it’s worked — Mizzou moved into first place in the SEC Eastern Division after Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday — Pinkel said he’s not comfortable with it.

“We can’t rely on the defense to save us all the time,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “We can’t be complacent, like ‘Oh, our defense will go stop them like they always do.’ That’s just not fair to them.”

For now, though, Ray and the defense are swinging away.

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