The Rebel RoundUp: Ole Miss hits the road to play the Kentucky Wildcats
In this edition of The Rebel Roundup, we take a look at the Kentucky Wildcats and their players to watch at each position.
OXFORD, Miss. — We finally got to see Ole Miss football back in action last weekend and it felt good! While a 51-35 loss to Florida wasn’t the best outcome we could’ve hoped for, there was plenty to like in the action.
Realistically the game was closer than indicated by the final score — and if it wasn’t for a questionable roughing the passer call on a Florida 3rd-and-long, the score might have looked different. We did get a lot of answers to questions we had going into the game, and we perhaps also saw the identity of this Ole Miss team.
The Rebels put up over 600+ yards on offense, finding success both through the air and on the ground. Matt Corral probably had the most underrated performance of an NCAA quarterback last week as he put up 395 yards with three touchdowns.
Wide receiver Elijah Moore had a huge day, catching 10 passes for 227 yards. Tight end Kenny Yeboah and wide receiver Dontario Drummond also came up huge in the passing game, with Yeboah catching five passes for 91 yards and a TD and Drummond notching two for 60 yards and two touchdowns.
On the ground Corral and running back Jerrion Ealy both showed spark as Ealy notched 79 yards and one TD, while Corral tallied 50 yards with his legs. Snoop Conner also got in on the action, rushing for one TD.
The defense struggled for most of the day, giving up 642 yards to a veteran Florida offense. However, there were some bright moments as A.J. Finley caught a nice interception from Emory Jones; Tariquious Tisdale had two tackles for loss; and Keidron Smith (12 total, 8 solo) and Jacquez Jones (8 total, 4 solo) notched 20 tackles between the two.
Most teams make huge improvements from game one to game two, and you can bet co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge will be ironing out a lot of the defensive issues.
For more on the game, check out our Jake Evans’ recap here.
As will be our weekly custom, let’s dive into what to expect from the Rebels’ next opponent. Here’s what you can expect from Mark Stoops’ Wildcats. Kentucky enters the contest after a 21-39 loss on the road to Auburn last week.
Kentucky Game Details
- Matchup: Ole Miss (0-1) @ Kentucky (0-1)
- Kickoff: 3 PM CT, Saturday, October 3rd
- Location: Kroger Field, Lexington KY
- TV: SEC Network
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Opening Line Sept. 27:
- Kentucky -6
- O/U: 56.5
Series History and Side Notes
Ole Miss currently owns a 27-14-1 record against the Wildcats with the most recent contest being a thrilling 37-34 Rebel win in Lexington in 2017, courtesy of a huge catch from now Seattle Seahawk D. K. Metcalf.
Since 2000, Ole Miss has won four of the last six (the 2010 OM victory was vacated). Saturday’s contest will be in Lexington where the Rebels have a 10-11-1 record.
Kiffin is 1-0 all-time against Kentucky, earning an overtime win during his tenure at Tennessee. Stoops, on the other hand, has an 0-1 record against Ole Miss with the only meeting being the aforementioned 2017 meeting. The two head coaches also have experience against each other from Stoop’s time at Arizona and Kiffin’s at USC.
Kentucky fans have been excited about the 2020 season for a bike now. Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran made things exciting with the emergence of Lynn Bowden Jr. last year when starting quarterback Terry Wilson went down. This year Wilson is back and the offensive expectations are sky high–perhaps even higher now that Auburn transfer QB Joey Gatewood has been ruled eligible to play by both the NCAA and the SEC, as of this Wednesday.
We’re excited that @joey1gatewood has received waivers from the @NCAA and @SEC and will be eligible to play this season. We’re thankful that the SEC Presidents and Commissioner @GregSankey took into account the unique circumstances around this season.
— Mark Stoops (@UKCoachStoops) September 30, 2020
Additionally, Kentucky always has heavy run teams and can find ways to win on the ground. The Wildcats have a very experienced offensive line and look to run the ball downhill on the Rebs.
Kiffin on playing Kentucky: "Obviously a really good team we're playing, a lot of veteran players, especially on the offensive line. We're going to have to play really well and get better in areas we didn't do well in."
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 28, 2020
On the defensive end, Kentucky has a solid front that has them in position to potentially make some noise. Coach Stoops always has a tough defense, and in the past two years they’ve been top 15 in opposing PPG.
Here is the Wildcats’ depth chart for this Saturday’s contest.
Depth chart for Kentucky's matchup vs. Ole Miss pic.twitter.com/tFPT7NVcy1
— Shawn Smith (@gbbcountry) September 28, 2020
Starting for Kentucky this Saturday will be Terry Wilson, a true dual-threat QB. He missed most of last season but was ready to take the field against Auburn as he threw for 239 yards and added 13 rushes on the ground.
In 2018 Wilson played in 13 games completing 67% of passes for 1,889 yards, 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also added 547 yards on the ground. If there ever was a good time to have John Rhys simulate a QB, Wilson has been clocked in the 4.5s for his 40 showing off some serious speed that the Rebel defense needs to keep into account.
The caveat to all the above is that, as mentioned earlier, Auburn transfer quarterback Joey Gatewood has been ruled eligible, so keep an eye out for him.
Kentucky returns three backs who each ran for 500+ yards last season while averaging over 5.5 yards per carry.
The leading returner of the bunch is A.J. Rose who notched 826 yards. At 6-foot-1 inch, 215-pounds, Rose has a powerful style of running, and will also pose a receiving threat out o the backfield.
The next back to watch is the speedster, Kavoisey Smoke. At 5-foot-9 inches, it is easy to lose sight of him–as evidenced by last season where his 101 carries earned him 616 yards. You can be sure Kentucky will try to get him to accelerate downhill.
Finally, Chris Robinson has a mixture of the two and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. Ole Miss will have to be ready for all three come Saturday.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The real question mark for this UK offense is the receiving corps. Josh Ali is the biggest threat after racking up 9 catches for 98 yards against Auburn. Last season, however, Ali only had 23 receptions. He has moved into the Z spot (or the slot), which is normally inside and off the line of scrimmage for potential motion action. Sophomore Bryce Oliver will line up in the X position on the outside, while Allen Dailey Jr. will line up as the Y, which is typically a bigger receiver who is physical and can run block. Justin Rigg is the main tight end we will see and at 6-foot-6 inches, 265-pounds, is a big presence.
Kentucky believes its o-line may be the best in the country–and there may be reason for that. They return four starters to a group that has three big presences according to PFF. Darian Kinnard and Landon Young have some serious early-round NFL draft hype playing both the tackle spots. Drake Jackson is no slouch under center, having earned All-American honors. The offensive line is rounded out with Luke Fortney and Kenneth Horsey.
Highest-graded returning SEC Offensive Linemen:
1. Darian Kinnard, Kentucky – 89.2
2. Trey Smith, Tennessee – 78.6
3. Landon Young, Kentucky – 78.3
4. Drake Jackson, Kentucky – 78.0 pic.twitter.com/iP9Pubv7QV
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 24, 2020
Kentucky runs a 3-4 system with an outside linebacker/pass rusher called the “Jack,” which we will address with the linebackers. On the outside, as a true end will be Josh Paschal who moved back to defensive end from an outside linebacker role. Paschal appeared in 13 games last season while tallying 4.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks. Paschal already notched 1.5 TFL in Saturday’s contest against Auburn.
Nose tackle Quinton Garhana looks to eat up blocks with his 357-pound frame and expectations are high for him. The Rebels could also see Kentucky use defensive tackle Phil Hoskins, a sixth year senior who missed 2019 due to injury.
The biggest name on the field Saturday will belong to the strong-side linebacker, better known as the “SAM,” in the form of Jamar “Boogie” Watson. Watson will be the main pass rusher the Rebels have to deal with. He’s been compared to former Kentucky standout Josh Allen.
⚪ LB Spotlight ⚪
Jamar "Boogie" Watson – Kentucky
• Watson is a player I'm expecting to step up big time in 2020 for Kentucky. He's a big 6'3 250 lb physical player. In his career he's totaled 67 Tackles, 18.5 Tackles for Loss, 13.5 Sacks, 4 PBUs and 4 Forced Fumbles. pic.twitter.com/XEuN6bBYLm
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) August 22, 2020
Weakside linebacker DeAndre Square has taken a leadership role and is showing steady improvement along with with middle linebacker Jamin Davis. Jordan Wright and J.J. Weaver will occupy the “Jack” role as an end/linebacker hybrid.
The pass defense was a predicted weakness for Kentucky, and Auburn found way to capitalize on it. The group is headlined by free safety Yusuf Corker and cornerback Brandin Echols. They both return as former starters. Kelvin Joseph is starting alongside Echols and is an LSU transfer who will look to make an impact. Davonte Robinson comes back as a nickle corner who saw some playing time last year.
Kentucky Special Teams
The Wildcats bring back walk-on kicker Matt Ruffolo who attempted five field goals in seven contests last season. Kicking was a bring problem for the Wildcats last year and could carry over to this season. Punter and fan favorite Max Duffy, winner of the Ray Guy Award last season, is back again. Duffy vs Ole Miss punter Mac Brown could actually be interesting to watch as each are very good.
Look for Kentucky to establish the run game early in a variety of ways as the Wildcats try to control the pace and time of possession in the contest. Kentucky opened the game as favorites at home, but if Ole Miss’ defensive front can match UK’s physicality, and if Matt Corral can continue at the level of excellence he exhibited in the Rebels’ season opener, this game can be a lot closer than some may expect.
It would not be surprising if Coach Kiffin leaves Lexington with his first win at the helm of Ole Miss.
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.