Each week, The Rebel Walk’s Jeff Tetrick takes a look at the Ole Miss Postgame Points, examining the top five, positive takeaways from the Rebels’ most recent football game. Here are the Postgame Points from the win over Kentucky.
1. Huge, Emotional Win
Ole Miss scored a huge, emotional win over Kentucky at Kroger Field on Saturday. In a back and forth contest that featured eight lead changes, the Rebels marched the ball 71 yards in the final two minutes to pull out a 37-34 victory over the Wildcats. (Click here for the complete box score.)
After suffering a heartbreaking last-second defeat at the hands of Arkansas last week, many wondered if Ole Miss would throw in the towel on this season. The Rebels answered that question with one of their best performances this year.
Ole Miss played with heart, fight, and determination in the face of adversity. Never was that more evident than at the end of the game, when the Wildcats took the lead with just 2:14 to play only to see the Rebels drive down the field for the winning score with 5 seconds left in the game.
I was standing in the Rebels’ end zone on that final drive, and I could feel the intensity on the field from both teams. The crowd was as loud as it had been all day. It appeared that Ole Miss was determined to find a way to reach the end zone, while Kentucky players and fans seemed on edge and felt like the game could be slipping away.
When Jordan Ta’amu connected with D. K. Metcalf for the winning touchdown, the stadium went silent. The Ole Miss sideline erupted in celebration, as did the corner of the end zone where red-clad fans roared with pride. In what has been a trying season, this truly was a huge, emotional win for all Ole Miss Rebels!
2. Matt Luke
Coach Matt Luke deserves a lot of credit for keeping this team together through all of the ups and downs of this season. He was thrust into a tough spot just weeks before the season kicked off. On short notice, he had to get this team ready to play 12 football games.
Things went well in the opening two weeks, but then the going got tough during a three-game losing streak. Following a nice win over Vanderbilt, things got really challenging with consecutive home losses to LSU and Arkansas that left the Rebels at 3-5, 1-4 in the SEC.
As Coach Luke mentioned in his postgame press conference, people questioned when this team would quit on the season. Yet, the Rebels refused to quit, and the result was a season-saving win in Lexington.
Again, give Coach Luke a ton of credit for keeping the team together and fighting for more wins. He has taken a lot of heat from fans since the opening kickoff this year.
I was at the postgame press conference in Lexington, and after he finished talking he shed some tears and gave some big hugs to Ole Miss folks standing in the tunnel outside the media room. This win meant so much to him!
As well, Coach Luke needs to get credit for ensuring the clock was reset to 18 seconds after the review showed that Jordan Ta’amu was down before fumbling the ball on the final drive. I was standing close enough to hear him talking to the officials about the clock being at 18 seconds when Ta’amu hit the ground, while the clock had ticked down to 13 seconds after Kentucky returned the ball.
The officials did reset the clock to 18 seconds before play resumed. As it turned out, the Rebels scored on third down with 5 seconds remaining on the clock. Had the pass not been completed, however, the Rebels would have had 5 seconds and 1 more chance to score due to Luke lobbying the officials to make sure the game clock was correct.
3. Clutch Defense
In a back and forth game between Ole Miss and Kentucky, there was a series of drives in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter that changed the complexion of the game. Ole Miss displayed some clutch defense on four straight Kentucky drives.
The Wildcats scored on the opening drive of the second half to go up 27-17. Then, Ole Miss went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Kentucky. The Wildcats got the ball near midfield and were positioned to really put some distance between themselves and the Rebels on the scoreboard.
UK had 337 yards of total offense and a ten-point lead at this point. Sitting in the press box, I could feel the anticipation around the stadium that the home team was about to pounce and to put the game out of reach with a score.
Yet, the Ole Miss defense had other plans. The Rebels forced a three-and-out to halt the Wildcats’ momentum and to change the course of the game.
The Ole Miss offense responded with a field goal to cut the lead to seven. On each of the next three Kentucky possessions, the Rebel defense stood tall and forced a three-and-out.
When this series of possessions ended early in the fourth quarter, the defense had forced four straight three-and-outs that netted the Wildcats just 14 yards. Meanwhile, the offense scored 13 points in this time span to give Ole Miss a 30-27 lead heading into the homestretch.
Everyone will remember the game-winning TD pass from Ta’amu to Metcalf at the end of the game, and rightfully so, but the clutch defense during this portion of the contest was the turning point in the game that enabled the Rebels to have a chance to win it in the end.
4. Passing Game
Junior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was spectacular in his first start on the road in a Rebel uniform. Ta’amu and his receiving corps torched the Kentucky secondary throughout the game. The passing game was a big reason Ole Miss came out of Lexington with its second SEC victory of the season.
Ta’amu finished the game by completing 31 of 40 passes for 382 yards. He tossed 4 touchdown passes to go along with no interceptions. He delivered under pressure in just the second start of his Ole Miss career, and it came in a hostile environment against a quality opponent.
Sophomore A. J. Brown grabbed 7 receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown to pace the Ole Miss wide receivers. Freshman D. K. Metcalf caught 5 passes for 83 yards and 2 scores. Metcalf had two of the biggest catches of the game, as both of his scores came in the final seventeen minutes of action as Ole Miss rallied for the win.
Sophomores Van Jefferson (82 yards, 1 touchdown) and Dawson Knox (73 yards) hauled in 5 catches apiece, as did junior DaMarkus Lodge (46 yards). Senior Jordan Wilkins once again proved his value as a receiver out of the backfield with 3 receptions for 27 yards to go along with his 44 rushing yards.
5. Inside The Numbers
- A look inside the numbers from the Kentucky game shows how well Ole Miss played in the big win in Lexington.
- Ole Miss was 5-5 in the red zone, getting 3 field goals and 2 touchdowns for 23 points.
- Ole Miss succeeded on 6 of 13 third-down conversion attempts.
- Senior placekicker Gary Wunderlich was perfect on 3 field goal attempts and 4 PAT kicks.
- Senior DeMarquis Gates recorded 14 tackles, marking the fifth time this year he has had double-digit tackles in a game.
- Josiah Coatney registered 2 sacks, while Marquis Haynes and Garrald McDowell each had a sack.
Next up, Ole Miss ( 4-5, 2-4 SEC) returns home to take on the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. The Rebels and Ragin’ Cajuns have met on the gridiron four times since 1986. All four meetings have been at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and Ole Miss has won each matchup. The last meeting between these two squads was a 56-15 Rebel victory in 2014.
(Feature image credit: Jeff Tetrick, The Rebel Walk)