The Missouri defense hopes to stop a streak of bad performances when the Tigers host Kentucky on Saturday at Faurot Field. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

COLUMBIA – Anyone who watched Missouri give up 51 points in a loss to Middle Tennessee last Saturday likely will be surprised about one fact concerning the Tigers’ game this week.

The Tigers are actually the favorite for Saturday’s game against Kentucky.

Missouri, 0-3 in the SEC this year and 2-5 overall, will be trying to snap a nine-game conference losing streak in the game, which begins at 11 a.m. It will be televised by the SEC Network.

That challenge will be more difficult because of the absence of two of the team’s defensive leaders, linebacker Michael Scherer and tackle Terry Beckner Jr., both of whom suffered torn ACL’s in last Saturday’s game.

So why is Missouri favored over the Wildcats, who are 4-3, including a 3-2 record in the SEC and still have their sights set on their first trip to a bowl game since 2010?

The biggest reason is Kentucky’s performance on the road against conference opponents, having won only one of their last 26 games away from Lexington in the past six seasons.

Since the start of the 2010 season, the only road SEC win for Kentucky was at South Carolina last year. Including non-conference games, Kentucky has won only one of its last 15 road games. In their two SEC road losses this year, at Florida and Alabama, the Wildcats were outscored 79-13.

While that is good news for Missouri, the bad news is the Tigers are coming off three consecutive games in which they allowed 40 or more points, and that was with Scherer and Beckner on the field.

The task of taking over the on-field leadership of the defense could fall on true freshman Cale Garrett, who moved into the starting lineup two games ago, playing middle linebacker when Scherer was moved outside.

“For two weeks as a starter, as a freshman, that’s what I’m counting on him doing,” said coach Barry Odom. “There’s a lot of freshmen around the country that are playing and playing really well. At this point I need to quit looking at it as he’s not a freshman anymore. He’s been through spring ball with us, he’s been through two-a-days and now he’s played. So I anticipate and expect for him to play well and play at a high level.”

Odom said he planned to spend more time this week working with the defense, trying to correct some of that unit’s struggles. He was the defensive coordinator last year before his promotion to replace Gary Pinkel.

“I’ll try to provide some help, as much as I can,” Odom said. “I’ve got an opportunity to go help that side out and I’m going to do it. I’ve been trying to balance both sides along with some of the other things and I need to spend my focus there.

“When you’re not playing well enough on one side of the ball, then as the head coach, everything goes across my desk and I want to do everything I can to get it right. That’s the way I was brought up. That’s what I believe in. I like our staff and, I said it a couple weeks ago, I love this team. We’re not winning. Yet. We’re going to. I’ve got to find a way to get it done.”