LEXINGTON, Ky. — Chris Rodriguez Jr. rushed for career highs of 207 yards and three of his four touchdowns, including the go-ahead score from 8 yards with 11:28 remaining, and Kentucky stopped Missouri late to for a hard-fought 35-28 victory Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener.
The Wildcats (2-0, 1-0) never trailed this thrilling showdown for the early East Division lead, but they had to overcome squandering a 28-14 lead as Missouri (1-1, 1-1) eventually tied the game early in the fourth quarter. Kentucky answered by taking the kickoff and marching 75 yards, helped by Rodriguez’s 28-yard run and Will Levis’ 28-yard pass to tight end Justin Rigg to the Tigers’ 8.
Rodriguez barged in from the 8 for the TD, a play in which he appeared to fumble but was upheld on review. Missouri had a final chance after blocking Kentucky’s field goal attempt, but turned it over on downs as Connor Bazelak’s pass intended for Dominic Lovett was broken up by Carrington Valentine with 1:30 left.
Rodriguez rushed 27 times with TDs of 2 and 3 yards along with a 5-yard scoring reception. Will Levis completed 10 of 18 passes for 179 yards, a TD and an interception off a tipped pass.
The Wildcats outgained the Tigers 520-398 to avenge last year’s loss in Columbia that marked their flattest effort of the season.
Bazelak threw for 294 and four touchdown passes, including a 17-yarder to Tyler Badie early in the fourth.
Kentucky: Whether they’re able to challenge Georgia or Florida in the East remains to be seen. But the Wildcats held tough despite committing two turnovers, one of which led to a TD, and letting Mizzou break loose for two long TDs.
Missouri: Credit the Tigers’ resilience for answering every time they seemed on the verge of falling three touchdowns down. But they couldn’t stop Kentucky’s ground game or Rodriguez, who made it look easy against the defense.
Missouri hosts Southeast Missouri State on Saturday.
Kentucky returns to nonconference play against Tennessee-Chattanooga on Saturday.