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October 27, 2012COLUMBIA, Mo. -- If there was an opportunity, this was it.
"I feel like we should have won," junior tailback Raymond Sanders said. "We just handed the game to them."
Kentucky (1-8, 0-6 Southeastern Conference) had plenty of chances to earn its first league win of the season. Instead, Missouri (4-4, 1-4 SEC) closed out the Cats in a 33-10 win to notch their first conference win as a member of the SEC at Kentucky's expense.
UK couldn't capitalize on a fistful of mistakes by Missouri. The Tigers turned the ball over three times, but also had a muffed punt and two botched snaps Kentucky didn't recover. The Wildcats had plenty of problems on their own, losing three fumbles. But while Kentucky converted Missouri's three turnovers into just three points, the Tigers generated 21 points off the Wildcats' miscues.
"We didn't take advantage when we had momentum and we had the momentum a few times in this game," Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "Momentum with short fields and we didn't take advantage of them."
There was no bigger opportunity for Kentucky than when freshman cornerback J. D. Harmon picked off two passes on back-to-back plays on Missouri's first two drives of the second half. Tiger quarterback Corbin Berkstresser struggled all day and finished 10-18 passing for 71 yards.
Kentucky started the drive after the first interception on the Missouri 32. It started the drive after the second interception on the Missouri 49. They mustered a combined seven yards on those two drives, punting on the first one and missing a 47-yard field goal on the second one.
The Wildcats were down just seven points at the time, but didn't score again. The offense had just 26 yards after halftime and never found a rhythm.
"It's a game of not taking advantage of momentum on offense," Phillips said.
That wasn't the case early, though. UK nearly scored a touchdown on its first drive of the game before junior tailback Jonathan George lost a fumble that set Missouri up for its first score. Whitlow led UK to 120 offensive yards on their first two possessions and an early 7-0 lead before he was pulled in favor of freshman Patrick Towles.
Towles, playing for the first time since Oct. 6, finished 1-4 passing for two yards. He also gave up a fumble that Missouri's offense turned into a touchdown.
"We should have won the game," Towles said. "There were a lot of turnovers that we had, that I had, like when I fumbled. There were a lot of turnovers that we didn't capitalize on offensively. We put our defense in a lot of short fields. We're beating ourselves and that can't happen."
Towles went three-and-out on the first two of his three possessions. Those abrupt drives came early in the game, after the offense had started strong and put Missouri on its heels.
"We just came out with fire and came out pumped and drove the ball down their throat," Whitlow said. "We have to have that desire the whole game, the full game. We have to have that focus and drive the whole game. Pound it down their throat, execute on the pass, make the plays."
But Whitlow couldn't rekindle the fire when he was re-inserted. Whitlow said being pulled didn't affect his rhythm, but offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said after the game that it may have been a poor time to play Towles.
"If I had to do it over again, maybe I wouldn't have done that," Sanders said. "But there's no way of knowing at that time."
It was another opportunity that slipped away. There were plenty of those on Saturday.
"I thought we were going to come out with that win," junior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "It shocked me in the end that we didn't."
Freshman cornerback Cody Quinn strained his hamstring in the first half and did not return. Freshman linebacker Jabari Johnson suffered a hamstring injury also. Freshman linebacker Pancho Thomas suffered a wrist injury. He'll have X-rays to further evaluate it.
--Missouri forced two of Kentucky's six fumbles on the day and finished the game with 14 forced fumbles on the season. That was the most in the nation as of Saturday afternoon.
Missouri has now forced a turnover in 26 straight games. Kentucky had gone three straight games before Saturday without an interception or losing a fumble.
--After failing to score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter for 20 consecutive games, Kentucky has now scored an offensive touchdown in back-to-back games. UK scored in the first quarter at Tennessee on Nov. 27, 2010 before going more than a season-and-a-half without scoring an offensive touchdown in the first quarter.
--Avery Williamson had a career-high 14 tackles, including the first sack of his career. He has six games with 10 or more tackles this season and leads the SEC with 95 tackles ... Collins Ukwu blocked his second kick of the season ... JD Harmon had a career-high seven tackles in addition to his first two career interceptions.