CRAWFORD | Kentucky has once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity against - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Kentucky has once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity against Missouri

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — On Sunday night, a rare Supermoon lunar eclipse will be visible in the North American sky. It hasn’t happened since 1982.

On Saturday night in Lexington, something nearly as rare will be taking place. The University of Kentucky will take the field as a favorite against a nationally ranked opponent. Vegas likes UK by 2 1/2 against No. 25-ranked Missouri. It’s the first time UK has been favored over a ranked team since it was a 2-point favorite over No. 19-ranked Tennessee in the 2007 season finale.

The Wildcats lost that game by two, in four overtimes. I'll speak no more about it.

And that’s the only time in the past 20 years — and likely longer — that Vegas has picked the Wildcats over a ranked team. 

UK was a one-point underdog against No. 11 Georgia in 1998. It lost by two.

The point being that strange things are afoot in Lexington. The Wildcats have beaten the spread and beaten ranked opponents over the years.

But to be expected to do it, that’s progress for the program.

Now, it’s up to coach Mark Stoops and his players to turn that progress on paper into actual progress in the win-loss column. The Wildcats were a trendy pick against Florida a week ago, but Las Vegas oddsmakers didn’t go for it.

In that game, UK missed a chance to seize an opportunity in a winnable game against Florida (and its now 29-game winning streak in the series). This week UK needs to grab one of these opportunities to build on the momentum of a solid start, a renovated stadium, an excited fan base and a road win in the conference.

“The good news is we are closing the gap,” Stoops said this week. “We are in a one-possession game and we are all upset. That is a good thing. The fans are upset and want better play and so do I.”

Better play has been a given. Last week, it was the defense that showed up in a big way and turned in its best performance in recent memory, albeit against a Florida team with a true freshman quarterback and a first-year head coach.

In Missouri, it faces another offensively challenged team. The Tigers limped to a 9-6 victory over Connecticut last week. They are expected to be without their best running back. Their quarterback Matt Mauk, is known for making big plays, but also is prone to turning the ball over. His ability to run will be a major focus of the UK defense.

Missouri rolled into the SEC and won back-to-back league championships. This team isn’t quite of that caliber.

For UK, it’s a week for the offense to show what it can do. It played fantastic first halves against Louisiana-Lafayette and South Carolina, then couldn’t get into the end zone against Florida.

There’s no way around it. Quarterback Patrick Towles, who completed only eight passes against Florida, has to be better.

“Certain passes that are there we can’t miss,” Stoops said. “He does some very good things. . . . The frustrating thing for him and for myself and for all of us is when there are layups there you can’t miss layups. That, he has to improve on and he knows that.”

Time to throw will be critical, against a Missouri defense that is always tough. The Kentucky offensive line couldn’t do much with Florida’s front. Stoops is hoping for progress this week.

“There is technique with the guys up front,” Stoops said. “There are guys overreacting. Maybe they get beat with a speed rush one time so they start popping out too far and they come under. There are things the quarterback can do in stepping up into the pocket. There is protection we could do and call things better. All of us could do a better job and will.”

Here’s what the game means. Win it, and UK likely enters its big Thursday night showcase game against Auburn at 4-1 and the game becomes an infomercial for your program’s improvement — with a chance to upset a traditional SEC power that is struggling. Lose it, and you fall to 2-2, enter that game at 3-2, and you’re looking at having to beat a traditional league power just to avoid falling back to .500 with Mississippi State, Tennessee and Georgia ahead, and two of those on the road.

Stoops, however, isn’t getting caught up in all that. He says the team is improving, regardless of what the results turn out to be.

“I expect them to have the same confidence today that they had before the Florida game,” he said of his players. “We’re all disappointed in the outcome (of the Florida game), and nobody is more disappointed than them and the coaching staff, but the good thing is that we were in a position to win the game, we just didn’t make the plays. It’s hard to play a clean game. It’s a long season. We’ll play better, our players have a good attitude, are working hard and we’re getting better, and we’re getting in a position to win games. You’re not going to do it all the time although we’ll strive to do it. We’re fine, our psyche is fine, their confidence is fine, so we’ll move on and get ready.”

The Wildcats are getting into position. But winning some of those is important. Winning this one may be as important as any this season, at least in terms of keeping current struggles from eclipsing overall progress.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.

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