Rebels conquer Cats: No. 7 Kentucky loses 22-19 at Ole Miss


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) is sacked in the end zone for a safety during the No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 14 Ole Miss football game on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, at Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss won 22-19. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 7 Kentucky football (4-1) suffered its first loss of the season, coming up short 22-19 in Oxford against No. 14 Ole Miss (5-0).

The result ultimately came down to UK consistently shooting itself in the foot, costing itself around 20 points with mistakes and turnovers.

“Very difficult loss for our team,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “We didn’t play very precise in certain areas. We left points on the board, but I’m extremely proud of our team coming into halftime. Everybody had a calmness about it and they felt like we were going to go back out there in the second half and come back.”

The UK defense held strong for much of the game, allowing just two touchdowns, with one being a four-yard rush, and shutting down Ole Miss in the red zone, forcing two field goals and a turnover on downs.

That said, defensive coordinator Brad White was unhappy with his squad’s ability to prevent third-and-long conversions, with the Rebels converting on third downs 50% of the time, including a third-and-fifteen in the fourth quarter.

“The thing that got me the most was third-and-long,” White said. “We didn’t do well enough on third-and-long, some guys gotta be cleaner in that area. That’s something that has not been an area of concern up to this point.”

The offense, on the other hand, will return to Lexington with more to be disappointed about, being responsible for a number of the missed opportunities.

UK sputtered out on its first offensive drive after forcing the Rebels to punt to start the game before kicker Matt Ruffolo missed a 39-yard field goal on the Cats’ next drive, leaving Kentucky scoreless after two drives.

Ruffolo connected on 87.5% of his kicks prior to the miss, with only one miss in Gainesville prior, with that percentage going down to 77% after.

To make matters worse, while Kentucky was able to score a touchdown on its next offensive drive, mostly thanks to freshman Barion Brown’ 85-yard kick return to the Ole Miss 15-yard line, Ruffolo’s extra point attempt was blocked by the Rebels as well.

The misses wouldn’t be the only blunders made by the special teams unit against the Rebels with the kickoff return team also costing UK a touchdown after accidentally tripping Brown on another return, turning a likely touchdown into a 54-yard return in the third quarter.

Going back to the second quarter, Kentucky once again faltered when it handed the Rebels two points on a silver platter as UK quarterback Will Levis was sacked in the end zone.

While Levis tried to throw the ball away, he was called for intentional grounding, resulting in a safety against Kentucky.

“(It’s about) knowing the situation,” Levis said. “Not being aware of the pressure around you and just not throwing it out of bounds.”

Somehow, despite the mistakes, UK managed to put itself back in good position, scoring late in the second quarter off a five-yard pass to Tayvion Robinson. The score put Kentucky back within a touchdown of Ole Miss, though it was still not without flaws as the extra point attempt was unsuccessful due to a bad snap.

Starting the second half with the ball, Kentucky looked to gather momentum with a game-tying drive to start the half but were only able to muster up a five-yard third-and-out.

Luck was in UK’s corner though, and, after forcing Ole Miss to punt as well, Kentucky tied the game on its next drive anyway after Levis connected with tight end Jordan Dingle, who ran it 17 yards into the end zone.

Ruffolo also earned a bit of redemption on the drive, making the extra point attempt and officially tying the game.

With the teams now tied, Ole Miss soon began marching down field, before a strong showing from the Kentucky defense forced the Rebels to settle for a field goal, bringing the score to 22-19.

“In the red zone I felt we played better,” White said. “We forced one field goal there in the second half and made the fourth down stop, so we just have to play better (overall).”

Making the stand even more impressive was the fact that Kentucky had just lost its starting middle linebacker, Jacquez Jones, to an apparent injury. Jones had previously referred to himself as the “quarterback of the defense.”

Entering the fourth quarter Kentucky had possession of the ball trailing and was in dire need of a pivotal play.

It very nearly got it on a fourth down rushing play early in the quarter, but Levis fumbled the ball on the attempt and Ole Miss secured the recovery, marking the first turnover of the game for UK.

Taking over the ball with less than three minutes to go, Ole Miss looked to close out the game, but Kentucky stood tall, forcing the Rebels to punt with just over a minute taken off the clock.

With anticipation rising, Levis completed a 51-yard pass to Brown to put Kentucky on the Ole Miss seven yard line with plenty of time for a game winner.

The Wildcats very nearly had just that when a seven-yard touchdown pass was completed to freshman Dane Key, but unfortunately for Kentucky, Levis did not allow one of his receivers to get set from after motion, nullifying the play and backing Kentucky up five yards.

“It was one of those deals where we had plenty of time,” offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said. “We shouldn’t have been rushing. It’s our job to make sure (everyone is set).”

Going for goal a second time, disaster struck for Kentucky once again as Levis was sacked for the third time in the game, this time coughing up the football for his second fumble which, much like the first, was also recovered by Ole Miss.

“I could have done better to secure the ball on (the first fumble), he made a really good play,” Levis said. “The second one I just tried to hit a double move and throw it as he was coming out of his break (but) I gotta get the ball out earlier. I feel like we were the better team out there but we shot ourselves in the foot. I need to be a better game manager.”

With possession back, Ole Miss was content to kneel the ball and claim its first ranked victory of the season and keep Kentucky winless in Oxford since 1978.

The Wildcats will look to bounce back in Lexington on Saturday, Oct. 8, hosting the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Kickoff between UK and USC is currently scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST and will air live on the SEC Network.