A week after Kentucky ended a 17-game losing streak at Neyland Stadium that dated back to 1984, the Wildcats are on the opposite end of a streak when they travel to Missouri. The Tigers from Columbia have not defeated Kentucky since 2014 when Gary Pinkel roamed the sidelines. Missouri has lost five straight to the Wildcats by an average of 10.2 points per game.
In his first year leading Mizzou, former Appalachian State head coach Eli Drinkwitz is not shying away from the win streak storyline.
“I’ve joined in the Mizzou family. I’ve joined in with the history, both good past and future. We absolutely understand that it’s been awhile since we’ve beat these guys. I don’t think there’s anybody in our team room that’s beaten them while they wore a Mizzou jersey or shirt. Obviously, that gives us a little bit of extra motivation,” Drinkwitz said on Tuesday.
“Now that doesn’t have anything to do with our performance on Saturday. Our performance Saturday stands alone for us trying to be 1-0. Our preparation this week determines the outcome.”
To make that message clearer, at this week’s first team meeting, Drinkwitz asked his players “raise your hand if you’ve beat Kentucky.” Zero hands were raised.
“It’s definitely something we need to fix,” junior receiver Barrett Banister told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When Coach Drink asked everyone if they’ve beaten Kentucky and no hands go up it’s a tough feeling to swallow. … It’s time for us to get one.”
Adding insult to injury, Missouri has more former Kentucky players on their roster (punter Grant McKinniss) than players or coaches who have victories over Kentucky.
“Man, it sucks,” senior safety Joshuah Bledsoe told Dave Matter of the Post-Dispatch. “It’s like every year it’s something. Why are we not beating this team? We should beat this team. We’ll get it done this time.”
Mizzou is clearly using the losing streak to Kentucky as motivation inside the locker room. Outside of the locker room the pressure to beat the Wildcats might be more intense.
Most of UK’s wins were by a pretty wide margin, except in 2017 and 2018. In each loss Tiger fans point to poor officiating for their team’s downfall. Ahmad Wagner drew a pass interference penalty in the final seconds of UK’s last trip to Columbia, giving Kentucky an untimed down to score the game-winning touchdown. That play is still a sore subject in the Show Me State. It’s not just blustering fans who think something went wrong in 2017. The SEC league office admitted after the 40-34 Kentucky win at Kroger Field that Missouri should have received 16 seconds on the clock in the final drive, instead of just three, after Josh Allen poked the ball free as referees scrambled to spot the ball. Drew Lock only got one more shot at the end zone instead of two or three.
#41 Josh Allen is the MVP here. Knocked it out of J'Mon Moore's hand before he could throw it to the ref! pic.twitter.com/4dK0LBQdwY
— Jeff Faughender (@JFauGFX) October 8, 2017
Mark Stoops is not looking to the past to get his team ready to play Missouri. When asked about the streak on Monday, he snapped.
“It means absolutely nothing, right? I mean truthfully, it means nothing,” he said. “We have to go win this week. So, I don’t even know what the streak is. This is a new staff, a new group and I have no idea what it is because it really means nothing.”?
Fatigued by streak talk, Stoops focused his team’s attention onto themselves. While media outsiders praised the Cats for their performance against Tennessee, Stoops was quick to point out areas of improvement, particularly deeper down the depth chart and on the defensive line. “We weren’t good enough against Tennessee,” is a more concise version of his final message to the team on Thursday.
“Get on that plane with a strong mindset and be ready to go. Play with the same intensity and continue to try to improve,” he said yesterday afternoon. “That’s the big thing we were focusing on all week is playing better than we did a week ago.”
As much as Stoops would like for his team to ignore the outside talk, let’s face it, that’s impossible. There are other ways that message can be manipulated to make sure Kentucky takes the field with an intensity that matches the vengeful Tigers.
“We wanna make some streaks of our own. I’m definitely tired of them,” said senior offensive tackle Landon Young. “I’ve lived through them my whole life — hearing about the Florida streak and being able to beat them there; going down to rocky top and never being able to beat them in their own stadium for the last 36 years. We wanna break that and not only break it but make it our own streak, turn it around on them for the next 36 years and see how it feels.”