Kentucky vs. Missouri Preview: Mizzou’s Defense Makes It a Live Underdog

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Nathaniel Peat #8 of the Missouri Tigers runs the ball against Anfernee Orji #0 of the Vanderbilt Commodores. Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images/AFP.

Online betting sites have released their NCAAF odds for this week’s college football action. One SEC matchup worth investing in is the one between Kentucky and Missouri.

Kentucky may be demoralized coming into this game. While nobody expected the Wildcats to upset Tennessee, they lost 44-6 in blowout fashion.

Meanwhile, Missouri is riding high after beating ranked South Carolina on the road. While Kentucky still looks like it will easily become bowl eligible at some point in its season, the Tigers could really use a win on Saturday in order to have the necessary six wins by season’s end.

For reasons that I will explain, you should play the spread and total for this game at the top-rated sportsbooks.

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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Missouri Tigers

Saturday, November 5, 2022 – 12:00 PM EDT at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium

The Odds

Missouri is a slight underdog for its game against Kentucky and the total for this matchup currently sits at 43.5. The total makes sense in a way that ties to Missouri's outlook of covering the spread.

When the Tigers win, the combined number of points between both teams generally falls considerably short of 43. For example, they beat South Carolina. In this game, both teams combined for 33 points. The week before, they beat Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt and Mizzou combined for 31 points.

Conversely, when Missouri loses, the combined number of points between both teams tends to approach or exceed 43. When, for example, they lost to Florida, Florida won 24-17. Georgia and Missouri, moreover, combined for 48 points in Missouri's loss.

In sum, Tiger success largely hinges on its defense.  Missouri does not want to win in a shootout, unless, of course, it's facing minor programs like Louisiana Tech. So, Mizzou's prospects of covering the spread against Kentucky largely hinge on the outlook of their defense.


The Importance of Stopping the Run

There is a pattern to Missouri's defensive successes or failures. This pattern underscores the importance to Mizzou of stopping the run.

When Missouri allowed 24 points in a loss to Florida, 26 in its loss to Georgia, and 40 in its loss to Kanas State, the Tigers' opponent thrived on the ground. K-State amassed 235 rushing yards; Georgia ran for 169 rushing yards, and Florida accrued 231 rushing yards.

Conversely, Missouri's run defense accomplished its objective in its team's last two games, both of which were wins.

When Vanderbilt mustered 14 points, the Commodores ran for 57 yards. In a similar vein, the Gamecocks scored 10 points and managed 32 rushing yards.

Rush Defense Stats 

Evidently, Missouri wins games when it stops the run. The above pattern showed this. But is there any pattern that helps us predict the games in which it will successfully stymy the opposing rush attack? In other words, we can explain past results, but are we also justified in betting on future results to unfold?

Yes, and here's why: Florida and Georgia rank in the upper half in rushing yards per game. Conversely, Vanderbilt ranks 10th in the SEC in rushing yards per game, and South Carolina ranks 11th in the category.

It is therefore clear that Missouri succeeds against teams that rank in the bottom half in the SEC in rushing. I like Missouri to win on Saturday because Kentucky squarely belongs with Vanderbilt and South Carolina.

That is, the Wildcats will fail to mount sufficient offense because they are not a good enough rushing team to challenge Missouri. One must bet on the Tigers to win because Kentucky ranks second-to-last in the conference in rushing yards per game.


Will Levis 

Could Kentucky's pass attack offer any redeeming hope for the Wildcat offense? Will Levis, in his team's last game, suffered a passer rating of 67.5 against the nation's 121st-ranked pass defense. It is hard to imagine him performing any better against a Mizzou pass defense that, nationally, ranks 100 spots better.

Levis is handcuffed by several debilitating circumstances. One, his pass protection has regressed mightily this season. His team ranks 128th nationally at limiting the opponent's sack rate. Long wide receiver routes, which explain Kentucky's high ranking in yards per pass attempt, obviously don't help, because they require more time to develop, which entails that the quarterback has more time to get sacked.

Not only does Levis have trouble staying upright in general, but he lacks the playmaking freedom that his offensive line afforded him last year. This last point ties into his second debilitating circumstance, which is poor offensive scheming.

He is an able runner and could thrive in an RPO game and by otherwise making use of his mobility, especially via quarterback draw plays. But, instead, he is being asked to stand strong in a collapsing pocket in Kentucky's pro-style offense.

Missouri's Offense 

Missouri has yet to score over 23 points in an SEC game. The Tigers rely to a meaningful extent on quarterback Brady Cook's ability to run. His strongest rushing outputs came in three of Mizzou's four highest-scoring games.

Problematically for him, Kentucky is reliable at stopping mobile quarterbacks from running. For example, Florida's Anthony Richardson generally loves to run, but the Gator quarterback ran for a season-low four yards against Kentucky.

Tennessee's Hendon Hooker provides further evidence. Without Cook's running, then we just get the interception-prone passer, Cook has more interceptions than touchdowns on the season.

In terms of pass completion rate, Cook is efficient, though, and SEC teams determined to run on Kentucky find success with their running back.


The Verdict 

With your NCAAF picks in mind, expect a Missouri win on the strength of its run defense.

Kentucky's pass attack won't help its offense, while Missouri's efficient quarterback will do enough in tandem with Mizzou's normally efficient starting running back, Cody Schrader, to secure its team's lead.

For the above reasons, expect the underdog to win a low-scoring game. Let's take the free points along with the "under."

NCAAF Pick: Tigers +2.5 (-110) at BetOnline (visit our BetOnline Review)

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Tigers +2.5 (-110)
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NCAAF Pick: Under 43.5 (-110) at BetOnline

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Under 43.5 (-110)
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*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.