LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — With nothing working initially against No. 24 Kentucky, Missouri gambled on deception to find a spark.
It paid off with a touchdown, and the Tigers followed that up with inspired play to spark a sorely needed victory.
Brady Cook threw for one touchdown and ran for another and Missouri scored on a fake punt during a 20-point outburst in a 38-21 win over the Wildcats on Saturday night.
A week after allowing 14 points in the final three minutes of a 49-39 loss to No. 23 LSU, the Tigers (6-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) trailed the Wildcats (5-2, 2-2) 14-0 before seizing momentum in the second quarter with trickery. Luke Bauer looked ready to punt before stepping back and lobbing a pass down the left sideline to Marquis Johnson for a 39-yard touchdown. Williams had a step on Kentucky’s Andru Williams, jumped to grab the ball and sprinted in for the easy score.
“We ran it all week and I had a feeling we would run it,” Bauer said, noting his baseball background for the throw. “For a second I thought it wouldn’t get there and then I saw him jump for it and I was like, ‘it was really happening.’”
“The fake punt that sparked us was unbelievable,” added Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz, crediting special teams coordinator Erik Link for recognizing the potential to run it. “We just needed something to believe in. We rolled with it. Down 14-0, what do you have to lose?”
Cook took charge from there with his arm and feet.
The nation’s sixth-best passer sandwiched an 18-yard touchdown pass to Theo Wease Jr. between two Harrison Mevis field goals for a 20-14 lead at halftime, then answered a Kentucky touchdown with a 1-yard score to restore Missouri’s lead early in the fourth. Cody Schrader added a two-point conversion run to make 28-21, then ran for a 19-yard TD minutes later to seize control for good in a sometimes-chippy contest.
While Cook also praised Bauer for getting it started, he had good words for Missouri’s other units for responding to help stop the Wildcats’ roll and taking their homecoming crowd of 61,654 out of it.
“We played complementary football,” said Cook, who completed 10 of his final 12 passes to finish 19 of 29 for 167 yards with an interception. “Credit to the defense and special teams. When we needed to close it out, we found a way to get it done. I thought we did a good job of handling the environment and keeping our composure.”
The Tigers’ defense also turned the tables with two interceptions among three takeaways, six tackles for loss and four sacks. Missouri outgained Kentucky 324-286, 308-136 after the first quarter.
Devin Leary threw TD passes to Ray Davis (20 carries, 128 yards) and Anthony Brown-Stephens and rushed for a 13-yard score to give Kentucky leads, but was otherwise harassed, getting sacked four times and throwing two interceptions. The Wildcats sought a rebound from last week’s 51-13 rout at top-ranked Georgia, but were thoroughly outplayed the final three quarters.
“(To) start 14-nothing and then have the fake punt definitely it’s one of those plays that kind of feels like it punches you right in the gut,” coach Mark Stoops said. “And we didn’t respond very good after that.”
Kentucky will move out of the rankings after a second consecutive loss. Missouri was the first team out last week and could return after a one-week absence.
Missouri: The Tigers needed a quarter to regroup after being initially swamped, but were dominant after that in all phases in ending a two-game slide against Kentucky. They converted all six red-zone chances with Mevis kicking field goals from 25, 31 and 29 yards.
Kentucky: The Wildcats started well toward putting their horrid showing at Georgia behind them, but the wheels came off in all phases after the first quarter. They committed 14 penalties for 122 yards, couldn’t protect Leary and were really embarrassed by the game-changing fake punt. The bye week comes at the right time for a team that has hit a wall and not looking good after Stoops caught heat for appearing to challenge disgruntled fans to ‘pony up’ to attract talent.
“We have some extra time to focus on that,” center Eli Cox said. “They responded, and we didn’t. When they punched us, we didn’t. It’s a four-quarter game. We have to focus on playing all four quarters.”
Missouri hosts South Carolina on Saturday.
Kentucky hosts No. 19 Tennessee on Oct. 28.