Did adjustments to the run defense help? Our grades after Missouri's loss to Kentucky

Columbia Daily Tribune

Missouri's Saturday was certainly a roller coaster.

The Tigers were on the verge of being blown out, then made plays to get back in the game. Kentucky went up by two scores again before Missouri rallied for one more shot.

MU might have fallen short, but it wasn't because of the same offensive struggles it had last week.

Here are our grades from Missouri in its conference-opening and SEC East rivalry loss to Kentucky. 

Missouri QB Connor Bazelak

The quarterback gave the Tigers a chance to win. He was six passing yards away from reaching 300 on the night while throwing four touchdowns.

The most impressive part was how Bazelak settled in on drives where he led his team to scores, because he wasn't given many chances to get comfortable. Bazelak was even banged up near the end of the game, visibly limping after a sack late in the fourth.

Where Bazelak made significant strides was on third down, where he led the offense to nine conversions on 15 third downs. A big reason why Bazelak was more effective was the average distance on third down and how he picked up the firsts.

Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak (8) lines up a pass during the first quarter against Kentucky.

"We weren't in third-and-13's," Bazelak said. "I used my feet on two. We've got to do that more."

Bazelak consistently got six to eight yards on first and second down to set up third-and-manageable, as opposed to third-and-long.

The most glaring mistake he made was the interception in the third quarter that led to a touchdown. The play action fake Bazelak used didn't draw linebacker Jacquez Jones away from the middle, but that could be charted as a great play by Jones, too.

But, Bazelak made up for that mistake by leading the Tigers down for a game-tying score.

"He'll be sore tomorrow," Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz said. "But more importantly, he'll be pissed off because we lost."

Grade: B

Tigers wide receivers

After publicly taking the onus on themselves this past week, the Missouri receiving corps didn't exactly walk the walk.

In a type of game where playmakers are remembered by their ability to make a mark, the Tigers' receivers didn't make theirs.

There were drops abound, as receivers did their quarterback no favors. Missouri's leading receiver was running back Tyler Badie.

Badie, who was the offensive catalyst for a second straight week, earned his 88 receiving yards on 10 catches by busting tackles, tip-toeing the sidelines and doing whatever he could to churn out yards.

But, the top receivers on the depth chart didn't make much of an impact.

Keke Chism and Mookie Cooper combined for two receptions and 33 yards. The best receiver for Missouri was Tauskie Dove, who caught six passes for 65 yards, though Chism's lone catch was a 17-yard touchdown.

Grade: C-

Missouri tight ends

Missouri tight end Daniel Parker Jr. (82) runs in a touchdown during the third quarter against Kentucky.

Where the receivers lacked, the tight ends stepped up.

There wasn't much of Niko Hea and Daniel Parker in Week 1, aside form Hea's two-yard touchdown catch. In fact, Parker hadn't caught a touchdown in three years.

Parker caught two Saturday against Kentucky, as the two tight ends combined for eight receptions for 58 yards. The duo of Parker and Hea helped set up Missouri's third-and-short situations, which helped the offense on third down. 

These two went from being blocking tight ends to showing they can be multi-dimensional weapons in the Tigers offense.

Grade: B

The Missouri run defense

Every facet of Kentucky's rushing attack was a problem for the Tigers on Saturday night.

Chris Rodriguez was fast, but also a bruiser. The Wildcat offensive line did whatever it wanted to, and there wasn't much Missouri could say or do to slow Kentucky down besides getting to halftime.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis (7) stiff arms Missouri linebacker Devin Nicholson (11) on his way into the end zone during the first half against Missouri on Saturday in Lexington, Ky.

Kentucky rushed for 217 yards in the first half. Missouri rushed for 104 yards in the whole game.

But, the unit did make adjustments at the break, which lent itself to improvement. 

Missouri allowed 123 rushing yards in the second half. That might seem like a lot, but really all Kentucky did was run the football. Cats' quarterback Will Levis threw four passes the entire second half, completing three of them.

The sheer amount Kentucky ran the ball meant the Wildcats were going to gain yards. But, it was how they did it that was jarring.

The second-to-last drive before halftime for Kentucky was comprised entirely of rushing plays. UK did what it wanted, when it wanted, and there wasn't anything Missouri could do except hope someone else made a play.

Said bluntly by Drinkwitz: "We got our butt whipped up front."

Grade: D

Missouri safety JC Carlies

Missouri defensive backs Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (2) and Jaylon Carlies (1) celebrate an interception Sept. 11 against Kentucky.

Back in the first half, when Kentucky was just doing whatever it wanted, Rodriguez was about to stroll in for a touchdown to make it 28-7.

That's when someone finally made a play.

JC Carlies was that player making plays on defense for Missouri. He forced Rodriguez to fumble on that aforementioned carry, which led to a Missouri touchdown right before half and a massive shift in momentum.

Carlies also intercepted a pass that tipped off a Kentucky receiver's hands. It's great awareness by the safety, who has now picked off two passes on the season: one against CMU and another against UK.

So far through two games, Carlies has proved that Missouri has a turnover-minded safety patrolling the back end of the secondary. That's a very good thing to have.

He also had four tackles on the night.

Grade: A