COLUMBIA, Mo. — A loss is a loss, but Missouri's 40-34 loss to Kentucky on Saturday in Lexington is one that stings with a particular fierceness.
Missouri coach Barry Odom is fond of saying games hinge on five or six plays that make up the difference between winning and losing a game. It's a little hard to square that stance with the 51-14 loss to Auburn, or the 35-3 loss to Purdue. But against the Wildcats, on the road, it was completely accurate.
First, how the game ended. With 30 seconds left, after an underneath completion to Ish Witter, the chain gang on the away side of the field moved the chains indicating a first down. But on the home side, the two sticks were a yard apart, and that's where Drew Lock completed a shallow cross to J'Mon Moore, who did not get out of bounds. And no wonder, he was looking at the marker nearest him, and thought the clock would stop for a first down. But it was already first down, and he gained just three yards.
What happened next is a topic of rightful anger for Missouri fans. As Moore jogged back to an official, likely thinking the clock had stopped while the chains were moved, Kentucky's Josh Allen knocked the ball from his hand, and the Tigers went from 20 seconds on the clock and the chance to run at least two plays to three seconds and a last-second heave to the end zone that came up just short.
"After postgame video review and discussion with the on-field officials, it was determined the officials did not see the ball dislodged by an opposing player as the Missouri receiver attempted to return the ball directly to the official," the SEC said in a statement the next day. "Had that action been seen by the officials in real time, the clock would have been stopped at approximately 0:16 seconds and restarted on the ready for play signal."
Getting the call right during the game is important. But Missouri had chances to at least tie the game without a missed call from the officials.
The Tigers missed two field goals on bad snaps. They also surrendered a strip-sack to Allen after leaving one of the conference's best rushing linebackers unblocked on their third play of the game, and gave a Kentucky offense that had just punted after three plays a short field.
Offensive lineman Paul Adams said Wednesday the protection call at the line was not the right read for the defensive front the Wildcats showed, and they paid for it.
"We all should have known what the play was," Adams said, "but when (Drew Lock) said it, we all got a little confused, and I kind of thought in my head, 'I don't know if that's the best idea, I see this guy to the right of me and I don't think anyone's going to block him.' But we all learn from the little mistakes we have. He took full responsibility but at the same time, I think we should have known."
Damarea Crockett's fumble — his third of the season — a play after Cale Garrett's interception in Kentucky territory was a killer for Missouri. The defense gave up a 71-yard touchdown run to Benny Snell Jr. and a 64-yard catch and run touchdown from Garrett Johnson.
There's the six plays.
But this game was not without positive takeaways. Lock showed what he can do when the offense is in full swing: his in-stride completion to Moore down the sideline between the corner Moore had beat and the safety coming to help was his best all season. He had another well-thrown deep ball over the top to Emanuel Hall, and his pass in the middle to Johnathon Johnson was placed where only Johnson could get it, and also allowed Johnson to keep his momentum and ultimately beat two defenders for a 75-yard score.
Moore, Johnson and Hall are each averaging more than 10 yards a completion. Like most receivers, they're limited when double teamed. But Missouri got its run game going, to the tune of 213 yards on 33 carries, against a good defense and allowed its fast receivers to work their craft one-on-one.
The offensive line allowed no sacks after the first-quarter miscommunication, and Lock was only hit two other times in the game. As a result, Missouri leads the country in completions of 50 or more yards with eight, and is in the top 10 in completions of 40- and 60-plus yards.
Consistency is still and issue. Lock, for example, is completing 53 percent of his passes on the year, but that includes a high of 62 percent against Missouri State and a low of 43 percent against Purdue.
The bye week did this team some good. Missouri hopes the timing is right as it heads to Athens on Saturday to face No. 4 Georgia.