Story by Christian Clark, KBIA Sports
Photos by Brandon Kiley, KBIA Sports
Missouri defensive end Shane Ray (56) jumps to knock down Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles’ (14) pass at the line of scrimmage. Missouri defensive end Markus Golden (33) applies pressure to the quarterback after beating Kentucky offensive tackle Jordan Swindle (70) around the edge.
COLUMBIA — Darrian Miller didn’t stand a chance.
With less than a minute remaining in the game and his team facing fourth-and-7, the Kentucky Wildcats left tackle found himself lined up against Missouri defensive end Shane Ray.
The ball was snapped, and Ray did to Miller what he’s done to so many offensive linemen this year: use his blazing
speed to go right around him.
Ray grabbed hold of Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles behind the line of scrimmage, and took him to the ground for a loss of 11 yards.
The sack was the final blow in a 20-10 victory over Kentucky at Faurot Field.
It was also history as Ray recorded his 12th sack of the year to take sole possession of Missouri’s single-season sack record from former greats Aldon Smith and Michael Sam. The victory and the sack record ensured, Ray bounced off the turf and mimicked a baseball swing in celebration.
“Every defensive lineman that comes to Mizzou wants to break the Aldon Smtih sack record,” He said. “Just to be able to do that, the first thing I did was thank my teammates because without them I couldn’t’ have done that.”
Ray’s takedown of Towles turned possession over to the Tigers with 35 seconds left. It was the fourth time in five tries the Missouri defense had successfully stopped Kentucky on fourth down.
And they were even better on third down, forcing the Wildcats to go 2-for-16. The unit finished with three sacks, nine tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, and seven pass breaks on its way to allowing Kentucky only 258 yards of total offense.
The defensive line was its usual dominating self, but the Tigers’ secondary played perhaps their best game of the season.
A week after torching Mississippi State for 390 yards passing, Towles completed 19 of 37 passes for 158 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Cornerback Aarion Penton picked off the Wildcats’ signal caller with less than 30 seconds left in the first half. He recorded two pass break ups, while Kenya Dennis had four.
“We’re getting better and better on defense,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “Everybody saw this guy play — their quarterback — and their offense played people really well. I thought we really executed well on defense.”
The Missouri offense showed signs of improvement, too. At least for a half.
Quarterback Maty Mauk found wide receiver Bud Sasser for a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter. The first was a 3-yard slant, and the second a 26-yarder Mauk lofted in to a streaking Sasser in the back right corner of the end zone. The redshirt sophomore helped Missouri to a 14-3 advantage at the break by completing 13 of 18 passes for 126 yards.
However, the offense would cool considerably in the second half. The Tigers went three-and-out five times in the final two quarters. Two Andrew Baggett field goals were the only scores Missouri would add to its lead.
“We did a lot of stuff different,” said Sasser of his team’s second half struggles. “I say that not so much in play calling, but our intensity, our motivation to go out there and step on their throats and get things rolling.”
The production was enough though, as the Tigers defense forced Kentucky to punt or turn the ball over on down on eight of nine second-half possessions.
“I’m not getting used to it,” Pinkel said of Missouri’s ability to pull out low-scoring wins this year. “I don’t want to get used to it. We won a lot of games around here a few years back 44-31, 45-29 or 30. We’re calling the game a little bit different. We’re leaning on the run more and using the clock a little bit more, but yet we want to get the ball down field…We’re out of sync too many times.”
Pinkel’s bunch moved to 7-2 on the season with the win and 4-2 in Southeastern Conference play. Missouri sits atop the SEC East standings, as Georgia fell to Florida earlier in the day. If the Tigers can win their final three games against Texas A&M, Tennessee and Arkansas following a bye this week they’re guaranteed to go to the SEC Championship for the second straight year.
“November is a big thing around here,” Pinkel said. “There’s nothing easy this year. It’s one of those years.”