COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri football team found out sometimes the best way to end a losing streak is to flip the script.
Missouri beat Kentucky at its own game Saturday at Faurot Field, with a potent and dogged ground game, a ferocious defense and no major mistakes, on the way to a 20-10 win, snapping a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats.
Senior running back Larry Rountree III was called upon 37 times in the ground game and ran for 126 yards and two scores as Missouri racked up 220 yards 62 carries. Rountree's previous high in carries came against Arkansas in 2018, when he had 29 carries for 118 yards.
"Offensively we preached 'no turnovers, no turnovers, no turnovers, needed 200 yards rushing,' and we got that today," Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. "We controlled the clock, our ability to control the clock in the third and fourth quarter I think was the biggest difference. A tremendous win."
While the offense, with Drinkwitz's aggressive play calling, went 10-for-20 on third downs and 4-for-5 on fourth downs to extend drives, the Tigers defense held Kentucky to 2-of-9 on third down and bottled up the Wildcats' run game to the tune of 98 yards on 23 carries.
Both sides knew Kentucky wanted to run the ball coming into the game. Saturday, the Wildcats ran 36 offensive plays for 145 total yards and eight first downs and 16:50 of clock, while the Tigers ran 92 plays for 421 total yards and 26 first downs in 43:10 of game time.
"It's a blessing to have him on the football team," linebacker Nick Bolton said of Rountree. " Having somebody who's OK with taking 37 carries and managing the game for us, essentially, and him having (126) yards rushing, and I think Kentucky had under 100 yards, that kinda tells the story of the game. Our offensive line did a hell of a job up front."
Rountree continues to run his way into Missouri's history books. He surpassed Brock Olivo to move into third in program history in rushing yards in the first quarter, which ended scoreless, then punched in a 1-yard score in the second quarter to cap a 13-play, 66-yard drive to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. It was his 28th career rushing touchdown, tied for fifth in program history with Devin West and Derrick Washington.
"It's crazy, because honestly me coming to college, that was never a goal," the Raleigh, N.C., native said. "I never would have thought in a million years that I'd be third, but that's besides the point. I knew coming here as long as I ran for my teammates and my mom everything would take care of itself."
Missouri's offensive line played maybe its best game of the season and bullied a Kentucky defensive front missing at least one starter, though the Tigers had issues themselves. Starting left guard Xavier Delgado went down with an injury early in the second quarter, though true freshman Dylan Spencer did a nice job backing him up, and tackles Zeke Powell and Larry Borom were both banged up late in the game according to Drinkwitz.
Connor Bazelak played an efficient game at quarterback for Missouri and didn't try to do too much in his third collegiate start. He was 21-of-30 passing for 201 yards with zero turnovers and one sack for the Tigers, but most impressively was 8-of-9 passing for 80 yards on third down and 3-for-3 for 23 yards on fourth down, unfazed by a Wildcats defense that forced 10 turnovers combined in their last two games, with three returned for touchdowns.
Rountree scored again from 1 yard out to cap a six-play, 61-yard drive midway through the third quarter and moved alone into fifth in program history in rushing touchdowns with 29.
The Tigers' second touchdown came the series after a drive to open the second half intended to set the tone and demoralize Kentucky, but Missouri missed after going for the jugular. The Tigers strung together a 21-play, 66-yard drive to start the second half, which included conversions on third-and-7, third-and-10, fourth-and-4, fourth-and-6 and third-and-1 to move to the Wildcats' 16. But the Tigers stalled out, went for it on fourth-and-1 from the seven and Bazelak was sacked for a two-yard loss.
Missouri's defense, kept fresh by the offense's refusal to leave the field, answered by forcing a three-and-out, punctuated by a hard and legal hit by Bolton to drive Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson out of bounds.
Wilson finished the game 3-of-9 passing for 39 yards, 26 of which came on a touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to Josh Ali. Ali was the only Wildcat receiver with more than one reception.
"Both sides of the ball played the game exactly like we wanted it to be played in order to win," Drinkwitz said. "And that doesn't happen very often against a really good football team. We went down there and held them to 36 plays, they were 2-of-9 on third down offensively. I mean, I'm shocked at these stats. I've never been in a game like this. That's awesome."
The Tigers couldn't escape Kentucky without a scare. After Wilson's touchdown pass made it 17-10 with 13:14 to play, Missouri's offense went three-and-out for the first time in the game, and the Wildcats got the ball back with 11:09 left, but went just two yards in three plays before punting it back to Missouri. The Tigers answered with a 15-play, 61-yard drive and chewed 7:04 off the clock and freshman kicker Harrison Mevis nailed a 20-yard chip shot to improve to 7-of-8 this season.
Kentucky (2-3) gained 12 yards on one play on the ensuing drive before senior safety Joshuah Bledsoe stripped Ali clean while tackling him over the middle and recovered it for good measure. Ali was initially called down, but officials overturned the call upon review.
Tyler Badie converted a fourth-and-1 on the ground after a chain measurement and review to all but ice the game, and Missouri ran out the clock on two runs and a kneel-down to end the game and Kentucky's winning streak.
Missouri (2-2) is scheduled to face Florida (2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the road.
The Gators didn't play this week after their game against LSU was postponed because of several COVID-19 cases on the team.