Wildcats look to conquer Rebel territory in Oxford


Michael Clubb

Kentucky Wildcats running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) celebrates scoring a touchdown during the UK vs Iowa VRBO Citrus Bowl football game on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. Photo by Michael Clubb | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Heading into the bulk of its SEC schedule, Kentucky looks to remain undefeated against one of its toughest foes this season: the No. 14 Ole Miss Rebels.

One of four total road games all season, Ole Miss stands to be one of the toughest road game all year, arguably being the biggest challenge behind No. 1 Georgia in week 11.

The Rebels currently stand at 4-0 on the season, not dissimilar from Kentucky, having defeated Troy, Central Arkansas, Georgia Tech and most recently Tulsa this season.

Barring the recent matchup against Tulsa, which Ole Miss won close 35-27, the Rebels have blown out all of their opponents defeating Troy 28-10, Central Arkansas 59-3 and Georgia Tech 42-0 on the road.

Starting quarterback Jaxson Dart, a sophomore transfer from USC, has thrown for 697 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. Dart won the battle for starting position from sophomore quarterback Luke Altmyer, who has 125 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

For the Wildcats, Will Levis has led the charge for the offense with 1,185 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, tied for 18th in the country in passing yards and touchdowns.

On the ground, Quinshon Judkins leads the Rebels in rushing yards with 429 yards on 70 attempts for five touchdowns.

He’s followed closely by junior Zach Evans, with 365 yards on 59 attempts for four touchdowns, and Dart himself with 29 rushes for 201 yards.

In the red zone, Ulysses Bentley IV only has 75 rushing yards but four touchdowns, signifying the Rebels’ love for punching the ball into the endzone with a power back.

Alternatively, based on the rushing metrics, Dart will need to be contained by the defensive line to prevent significant rushes, not dissimilar from Levis and his playstyle.

For Kentucky, an offense that has struggled on the ground this season, Kavosiey Smoke leads the Wildcats with 263 yards and one touchdown, with the next highest rushing total being 76 yards from La’Vell Wright.

This is not necessarily indicative of how the Wildcats will do on the ground against Ole Miss though, as UK is sure to benefit from the return of Chris Rodriguez Jr., it’s starting running back that is coming off a four-game suspension for off the field issues.

With both offenses ripe with weapons it’s no surprise that Vegas predicts a shootout, with the over/under for Caesars Sportsbook being 54 points. With Ole Miss favored by a touchdown, that score comes out to be around 30-23.

Looking at the defensive side of the ball Ole Miss has allowed 10 points per game, though Tulsa, which boasts by far the best offense the Rebels have played, managed to put up 27 points on the road.

Kentucky, on the other hand, has allowed 13 points-per-game, with Northern Illinois’s 23 last Saturday being the most it has allowed this season, more than the 16 it allowed against then No. 12 Florida.
Despite the teams seeming close on paper, ESPN’s power index favors Ole Miss by 78.5%, not all of which can come from just home-field advantage.

Being the second top 15 opponent UK has faced all season, a win in Oxford could propel Kentucky into the top five, especially if No. 2 Alabama or No. 5 Clemson are upset by Arkansas or Wake Forest respectively.

While a loss wouldn’t crush the season for Kentucky, it may make fans much more weary of UK’s later road trip to Knoxville against No. 10 Tennessee and home game against No. 1 Georgia.

Stepping back, the matchup in Oxford, similar to week two in Gainesville, may be instrumental in determining where the Wildcats stand this far into the season, especially with outsider claims of UK being a “fraudulent” top 10 school.

Whether or not those criticisms hold merit is yet to be seen, but the matchup against Ole Miss is certain to lead many to lean one way or the other.

Kentucky and Ole Miss are set to kickoff at noon EST on Saturday, Oct. 1, in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi, with the game airing live on ESPN.