Originally posted on Fox Sports Kansas City
By NATE LATSCH  |  Last updated 11/8/13
Ninth-ranked Missouri is on the road at Kentucky on Saturday after three consecutive home games at Memorial Stadium. The Tigers (8-1 overall, 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference) are the top cats in the SEC East, ahead of South Carolina and Georgia, and can't afford a setback in Lexington against Kentucky (2-6, 0-4). Here are three things to watch Saturday: The quarterback situation Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel hasn't given any hints this week as to whether senior quarterback James Franklin would return this week from the shoulder injury he suffered in the fourth quarter at Georgia almost a month ago. Franklin was listed as the No. 3 quarterback and questionable on the official depth chart released Monday afternoon. Pinkel said during the SEC football coaches teleconference Wednesday that the quarterback was practicing this week and that team doctors would make a decision on his availability on Thursday or Friday. So far, no official word. Franklin was available in a limited capacity last week had the Tigers needed him against Tennessee, but redshirt freshman Maty Mauk took care of business and led Mizzou to an impressive 31-3 win. The Tigers are a two-touchdown favorite in this matchup and Mauk has played well enough to give the coaching staff confidence that he can win his first road start. Starting Mauk also would give Franklin two more weeks to heal; Mizzou is off next week. But if Franklin is healthy enough to take a few snaps, it might be wise to give him a chance to shake off some rust before presumably returning to action Nov. 23 at Ole Miss. Offense on a roll Missouri is averaging 500 total yards per game this season --262.8 rushing and 237.2 passing --and hasn't had much of a drop-off since Mauk took over. The Tigers have averaged 468.7 yards per game in Mauk's three starts, including 500 against Florida and 502 against Tennessee last week. Mauk's completion percentage (48.9) isn't pretty, but he has kept the offense moving and been able to distribute the ball to his plethora of playmakers. "I think he's done a lot of really good things," Pinkel said. "Great competitor, been thrown in against some of the toughest places to play, and in a great league. The good news is he's got some great people around him. He's been healthy, so that's been a plus for us. He'll get a lot, lot better as time goes on." Kentucky is allowing 421 total yards per game and has allowed more than 400 yards in six of its eight games. Top-ranked Alabama put up 668 yards against the Wildcats on Oct. 12. Sam chasing history Defensive end Michael Sam's breakout senior season has been a big part of the Tigers' 8-1 start and has earned the Texas native recognition as one of the nation's top defensive players. Sam has been named a semifinalist for both the prestigious Bednarik and Lombardi awards and is chasing a school record with at least four games remaining --five if Mizzou makes it to the SEC championship game. The Bednarik Award is given to the nation's best defensive player, while the Lombardi Award is presented to the best offensive or defensive lineman. Sam has 10 sacks --which ties him for the nation's best mark --and is closing in on the school record of 11 12 set by Aldon Smith in 2009. Sam is fourth on the school's single-season list. He trails Smith, Justin Smith (11 in 2000) and Stryker Sulak (10 12 in 2008). That's pretty impressive company. Kentucky has allowed 20 sacks in eight games, including three last week against Alabama State. Sam, who has three three-sack games this season, will spend much of Saturday's game trying to chase down Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow. "I love the way he plays," Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said of Sam. "He's very explosive and plays with a great motor. We'll have our hands full." You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.
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