Sunday grade card: Kentucky

Each Sunday, PowerMizzou.com will hand out a position-by-position grade card for Missouri from Saturday’s game. Here are the marks from the Tigers’ 35-28 loss at Kentucky.

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Quarterback: Playing from behind pretty much all night, Missouri had to lean on Connor Bazelak. Bazelak attempted a career-high 52 passes. He largely responded well. Bazelak showed his usual poise in the pocket, progressing through his reads if no one was open. He made smart decisions on every pass except one, the interception early in the third quarter. He also showed more mobility than usual, gaining 28 yards and a couple key first downs with his feet. There are definitely a few plays he would have liked to have back, but he certainly wasn’t near the top of the list of reasons Missouri lost. GRADE: B

Running backs: Once again, Missouri asked Tyler Badie to shoulder a massive load in the backfield. Once again, he delivered. Badie carried the ball 14 times and caught it 10 — and there’s an argument to be made that he should have gotten it more, as he never touched the ball on Missouri’s first possession. Badie turned the touches into 149 total yards and a touchdown, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards. He both made defenders miss in space and ran through tacklers when necessary. The coaching staff showed it trusts him in short-yardage situations and passing situations alike. He looks like Missouri’s clear-cut best offensive player. Only one other running back, Elijah Young, even touched the ball, and he only had two carries. GRADE: A

Wide receivers: Missouri’s pass-catchers largely struggled to create separation from Kentucky’s defensive backs down the field — although it should be noted very few teams hit big plays in the passing game against the Wildcats. The wideouts, particularly Keke Chism, also had a few drops. But the group made some nice plays, as well. Chism made up for his two drops with an impressive touchdown catch despite pass interference at the end of the first half. Mookie Cooper showed that he can be a downfield threat, too, with a 17-yard catch. Tauskie Dove caught six balls for 65 yards. GRADE: B-

Tight Ends: With Kentucky intent on taking away the deep ball, Missouri used its tight ends more than perhaps any other game since Drinkwitz took over, and the duo of Daniel Parker Jr. and Niko Hea rose to the occasion. Parker tripled his lifetime touchdown total with two scoring grabs. He showed impressive hands with his catch in the back of the end zone in the first half, plus a juggling, one-handed catch later. Hea caught five passes for 37 yards. He did commit what looked like a costly penalty with a false start on the one-yard line, but Parker bailed him out by scoring. GRADE: A-

Offensive line: The grades from Missouri’s skill players would probably lead one to question why the Tigers didn’t score more than 28 points. The answer to that would be the offensive line. Missouri had some success running the ball behind Case Cook, but for the most part, found it tough to create running room against Kentucky’s talented defensive front. The group was a bit better in pass protection, but Bazelak was sacked once and hurried or flushed from the pocket quite a few times. Both of the Tigers’ two final drives were derailed due to blocking mistakes. Marquan McCall got by Javon Foster to tackle Badie for a loss of three on a third down and one, forcing a punt, and J.J. Weaver came around the right edge unblocked to sack Bazelak on Missouri’s second-to-last snap. GRADE: D

Defensive line: One of the concerns among Missouri fans coming into Saturday was that a Missouri defensive front that struggled against Central Michigan would get manhandled by Kentucky’s talented offensive line. The reality turned out worse than even the most pessimistic fan would have imagined. Kentucky blew Missouri off the ball seemingly every snap, opening wide rushing lanes whenever it wanted. Excluding sacks, the Wildcats rushed for 352 yards, averaged seven yards per rush and had 10 different running plays gain more than 10 yards. The defensive ends struggled to set the edge, and no defensive tackle recorded a tackle for loss. The issues with the run defense certainly go beyond just the defensive line, but the front four has to be the biggest area of concern for Steve Wilks after two games. GRADE: F

Linebackers: Any time an opponent runs for more than 300 yards, it doesn’t reflect well on the linebackers, either. Blaze Alldredge once again led Missouri with 13 tackles, but a number of those came about six yards downfield, after he was slightly out of position or late filling a hole. Devin Nicholson struggled enough that the coaching staff played Chad Bailey for an extended stretch, and he looked even worse. In case you didn’t realize it, Missouri really misses Nick Bolton. GRADE: D

Secondary: We finally got to see some of the zone coverage Wilks promised during the offseason. The results weren’t pretty. Kentucky beat Missouri’s zone for its first touchdown and to move the chains on several third downs. Kris Abrams-Draine, in particular, had a rough outing after a strong debut at nickelback. He got beat for the Wildcat’s first score and then later Wan’Dale Robinson ran by him for a big gain. He also got flagged for pass interference. That forced Shawn Robinson to play the majority of snaps at nickel, but his lack of speed makes for a bad matchup when he’s asked to cover a player like Robinson in the slot, and Kentucky took advantage of that matchup at least once for a big gain. The outside corners were a bit better, particularly once Akayleb Evans replaced Ish Burdine. At safety, Martez Manuel struggled in run support (like just about everyone else). Jaylon Carlies was one bright spot, as his two takeaways were a major reason Missouri had a chance to tie the game at the end. GRADE: C-

Special Teams: Harrison Mevis was only asked to kick extra points, but he made all four. Kentucky transfer Grant McKinniss saw his winning streak in this series snapped, but he pinned his former team inside the 20-yard line four times. The Tigers didn’t allow Robinson to get loose for a return. GRADE: A

Coaching: You have to credit Missouri for its resolve, and certainly coaching plays a big role in that. At the same time, the coaching staff also gets some blame for the team starting the game in a 14-0 hole and failing to ever find a way to slow down Kentucky’s rushing attack. Also, while Missouri did end up getting another chance to tie the game, it was fairly easy to second-guess Drinkwitz’s decision to punt the ball from near midfield rather than going for it on fourth and four with 11:28 left, especially considering the struggles of the defense to that point. GRADE: C

Final Overall Grade: C-

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