LEXINGTON, Ky. – Patrick Towles guided Kentucky to two second-half touchdowns while pacing the Kentucky football team to a 21-13 victory over No. 25 Missouri and a myriad of firsts on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
Towles led UK to its first league victory at the New Commonwealth Stadium and its first win over a ranked foe since 2010. With the win, the Wildcats moved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference competition. Missouri fell to 3-1 and 0-1 within the league. The win over the Tigers signified the first win over a top-25 opponent in the Mark Stoops era.
“Obviously a very big victory for us. I’m very proud of the team,” Stoops said. “Like I told them just a moment ago, it was just very gratifying to win a game like that against such a quality opponent in a hard-fought SEC football game.”
Kentucky concluded September with a 3-1 record for the second consecutive season.
UK returns to action with a home date against in-state rival Eastern Kentucky on Saturday. The game is set to air on the SEC Network at 7:30 p.m.
Towles directed scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters to ignite the offensive effort in the second half. The junior gunslinger found CJ Conrad for a 24-yard strike before connecting with Dorian Baker with less than seven minutes to play to give the Wildcats a 14-point lead it would not relinquish.
“I was telling the team in there that I’m pretty stingy with game balls, but I think he deserved one tonight,” Stoops said of Towles. “… I thought he played a really good game and made some really good plays with his feet and was aggressive down the stretch.
Towles had his most consistent game of the season, connecting on 22-of-27 passes for 249 yards with the two touchdown passes. He also added a 14-yard scamper for a score in the opening half.
“A lot went into preparing for the game tonight,” Towles said. “Coach and I tweaked something with my throwing motion and I felt I was more accurate.”
Defensively, C.J. Johnson paced the Wildcats with 11 tackles, besting his career high by five. Senior linebacker Josh Forrest added nine tackles, while Jason Hatcher posted eight stops to aid the stout defensive effort. Kentucky yielded just 14 points per game through its opening three games against SEC foes.
“Coach (DJ) Eliot — I mentioned it last week — he really had a good plan,” Stoops said. “Some things are coming together for us and guys are really playing hard. … I challenged the team early in the week on Monday that I just wanted us to play with relentless effort. I know that stuck out to me last year when we went to Missouri. I felt like they played harder than us and I was adamant about not letting that happen again.”
Kentucky, which had not won against Mizzou since the Tigers joined the SEC in 2012, had a number of player milestones as well. With his 6-yard carry with 1:24 remaining in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory, running back JoJo Kemp became the 34th Wildcat to rush for 1,000 yards in a career. The junior led the UK attack on the ground, racking up 66 yards on 13 attempts.
Garrett Johnson led the team in receiving with a season-high 119 yards, including a long of 35 yards that matched his season best. Conrad had a breakout game, not only recording his first career catch but also his first career touchdown with 55 yards of offense through the air. Baker also had a standout game, matching his career high of 51 yards and recording the second touchdown of his career.
Missouri was led by Ish Witter, who rushed for 50 yards on 11 attempts. Wesley Leftwich hauled in three catches for 44 receiving yards. Quarterback Maty Mauk paced the Tigers in passing with 180 yards on 15-of-30 attempts and added 49 yards on the ground.
Mizzou was the first team of the night to scratch the scoreboard, using two third-down conversions to reach the red zone. With 17 yards between himself and the end zone, Mauk tossed a lob to an open J’mon Moore for a touchdown with a successful extra point to give the Tigers the 7-0 advantage with 3:42 remaining in the opening quarter.
Following a rocky start to the drive that found the Wildcats in a first-and-29 situation, Towles found Johnson for consecutive 20-plus-yard throws to move the chains and get UK into Missouri territory for the first time in the contest. Kentucky continued to cruise downfield, closing out the quarter on the 14-yard line.
The short break did not derail the Wildcats as Towles used the opening play of the second quarter to dodge and weave through the Tiger defense for a rushing touchdown. That knotted the score at seven apiece.
Much like the start of the game, the second half started slow before Missouri struck late in the third quarter. However, the Tigers were left to settle for a field goal in lieu of a touchdown with 6:04 remaining, with Andrew Baggett sending a 39-yarder through the uprights to give MU a slight 10-7 edge.
Kemp acted as the catalyst for the team, as three of his carries totaled a combined 37 yards, giving UK a first-and-goal late in the third quarter. Though Kemp moved the offense down the field for the bulk of the drive, it was Conrad who would complete it for the Wildcats, pulling down a perfect 24-yard toss from Towles for the first touchdown of his career. With the addition of the extra point, Kentucky was able to take its first lead of the game with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter, leading by a count of 14-10.
“I honestly don’t really remember much,” Conrad said of his touchdown catch. “I caught it and, well, I knew pre-alignment that I had a shot just the way all of the safeties were lined up. I knew I was running a streak down the middle, so I mean, I might catch this ball and get a shot. And then it seemed like it was coming so slow and then I caught it and I was in the end zone.”
Kentucky continued to pour it on offensively in the final quarter, taking to the air again for another UK touchdown. Towles first found Johnson for a 35-yard reception, matching the wide receiver’s season high, before Baker pulled in a 25-yard toss on the sideline.
Another pass to Johnson, fanned out to the left sideline for a 24-yarder, put the Wildcats within five yards of the end zone. Towles then found Baker on a 5-yard lob for his first touchdown of the season and the second of his career, putting UK up 21-10 over the Tigers with 6:20 left in the game.
The Tigers looked like they would soon answer back with a touchdown, quickly making their way through Kentucky territory. Despite their momentum, the staunch UK red zone defense, led by a pass breakup followed by a quarterback hurry by Ryan Flannigan, once again forced Missouri to concede a field-goal attempt. Baggett’s 24-yard attempt was good, but the Wildcats were able to keep the chains moving on their final drive to close out the game.
“There were some tough runs in there,” Stoops said. “We were grinding it out, not getting some, but at the end of every victory we got some critical runs. That’s a big part of — that’s how you win close games.”