LEXINGTON, Ky — At times, it felt like anything but a certainty. Still, Kentucky never trailed Saturday night, as the Wildcats picked up a 35-28 win over the Missouri Tigers inside Kroger Field. The Cats move to 2-0 on the season.
In his first SEC test, Will Levis completed 10-18 passes for 179 yards, while adding 25 more with his own legs. His longest pass of the day was a 49-yard bomb to Wan'Dale Robinson. Robinson led the attack in the air with five catches for 101 yards.
Rodriguez finished the day as Kentucky's leading rusher, picking up 207 yards on the ground to go with five bonus yards in the air. C-Rod is the first Wildcat to rush for over 200 yards in a single game since Lynn Bowden did it against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on December 31, 2019.
Josh Ali finished with two receptions tataling 30 yards. He became the 31st Wildcat in program history to earn over 1,000 career receiving yards.
It didn't take the Wildcats long to get their offense rolling in the first SEC game of the season. Wan'Dale Robinson carried the rock a career-long 64 yards to get the Cats to Missouri's eight yard line on just the second play of the game. Chris Rodriguez finished the drive with a five-yard reception for his first touchdown catch as a Wildcat.
Missouri's first drive wasn't nearly as successful. The Tigers earned a single first down before being forced to punt, so the Wildcats got the ball back with just under 11 minutes remaining in the quarter.
On Kentucky's second drive of the game, UK earned first downs on a Levis scramble, a Mizzou face mask call, a 19-yard pass from Levis to Josh Ali, and an 8-yard gain by Wan'Dale Robinson to put the Cats on the 18 yard line. With a little help from a pass interference call, the Wildcats had a clear shot at the goal line. Chris Rodriguez powered it in, good for a two-yard touchdown which put the Cats up 13-0, which quickly became 14-0.
With that score, Rodriguez has scored a rushing touchdown in five straight games, tied with Boom Williams and Artose Pinner. The record is six consecutive games, currently held by Benny Snell.
Missouri first got on the board with time quickly expiring in the first quarter, thanks to a 6-yard touchdown pass over the middle of Kentucky's defense. The Tigers executed 10 plays for 75 yards in 4:40 to cut Kentucky's lead to 14-7 with :27 left in the first quarter.
The Cats turned it over near the beginning of the second quarter, when a Will Levis throw to Izayah Cummings slipped through the tight end's hands, was tipped, and landed in the gloves of a Missouri defender. The Tigers, however, were unable to capitalize off of Kentucky's mistake. Missouri was forced to punt.
After such a fast-pace first period, both teams seemed to slow down in the second quarter. That is, at least, until Levis converted a third-and-11 into a 49 yard gain thanks to another impressive catch by Robinson. Levis kept it for himself for a three-yard keeper touchdown, followed by another successful point-after attempt by Matt Ruffolo. The score read 21-7.
The Cats had an opportunity later in the quarter to punch in an easy one to further extend their lead heading into halftime, but Rodriguez fumbled the football near the 1-yard line. With just about a minute left on the clock, Mizzou quarterback Connor Bazelak was able to lead his team on a nine play, 80 yard drive in just one minute and 37 seconds, which ended with a 17-yard touchdown catch and a major momentum shift to end the half.
Still, Kentucky led 21-14 at the break. The Cats had already amassed 314 yards of total offense (96 in the air, 218 on the ground), compared to Missouri's 203 yards. The defense was yet to record a sack or a tackle for loss.
Linebacker Jacquez Jones grabbed Kentucky's first interception of the season with an athletic grab that shifted the momentum back toward the Cats. From there, it didn't take long for Rodriguez to earn his redemption. He scored again, his third touchdown of the night, to put the Cats up 28-14 with 13:19 remaining in the third.
That offensive mojo came to a halt later in the third period, at least temporarily, when the Cats went three-and-out and were forced to punt for the first time of the game. Missouri responded well and made the game, once again, a one-possession ball game. At the end of the third quarter, Kentucky led 28-21.
Missouri found its way back into the end zone early in the fourth on a unrelenting, little-by-little, 14-play drive which resulted in seven more points for the Tigers and a tie ballgame. With 13:11 remaining in the game, the scoreboard read 28-28.
Kentucky's offense responded with a nice drive that included a 28-yard rush for Chris Rodriguez, an 11-yard reception for Robinson and another run for Rodriguez - this time, it took eight yards for him to reach the end zone. The Cats regain the lead, 35-28.
With time beginning to wind down, Kentucky went for the 37-yard field goal on fourth-and-one on Missouri's 45 yard line. The kick was blocked, and the Tigers took over with 2:07 to play.
While the fans inside Kroger Field began to sweat, Kentucky's defense remained focused. Sophomore JJ Weaver delivered on a timely sack - UK's first of the night - on a third down, forcing a Missouri fourth-and-13 they did not convert. The Cats took over at their own 45-yard line. The game, unofficially, was over. Kentucky ran out the clock until it was final.
Saturday's game inside Kroger Field also featured several honorary guests. The family of the late John Schlarman, Kentucky's offensive line coach who passed away last season after a battle with cancer, attended the game and was recognized early in the first quarter.
The UK Rifle team brought their National Championship trophy into the packed Kroger Field, where they were honored during the first quarter. Chris Oats and his family also earned a round of applause from the fans. To support the Oats and help them purchase their own wheelchair-accessible van, go to 22OatsStrong.com
In the second quarter, the women's swimming and diving team brought their own hardware onto the field, where they were recognized for winning the program's first SEC championship. Four of the Wildcats who earned medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were later honored - fencers and UK College of Medicine students Gerek Meinhardt and Lee Kiefer, who are married, as well as current rifle athletes, Mary Tucker and Will Shaner.
Former UK basketball players DeAndre Liggins, Isaiah Jackson, Nick Richards, Immanuel Quickley and Tyrese Maxey were also brought onto the field, where they received a warm welcome from the BBN.
The game, which fell on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, was also tabbed "hero's day," and several military members, first responders and healthcare workers were also honored throughout the game.
For the latest on the Wildcats, watch BBN Tonight weeknights at 7:30 on the official station of UK Athletics, LEX18 News. Follow along with us on social media for more: