Mark Stoops talks Ole Miss vs. Kentucky; Jacquez Jones, Keidron Smith return to Vaught-Hemingway
OXFORD, Miss. – Saturday, Ole Miss will celebrate its annual homecoming. So will a couple of Kentucky Wildcats. When the teams meet at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Kentucky defense will feature two players who used to don Ole Miss uniforms. Jacquez Jones and Keidron Smith now play for the Wildcats.
“Both (are) really great kids,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said.
“It was awesome to be around them. Really good program guys. It’s like I said, it’s more like professional sports now with free agency where you go play people that used to play on your team, which didn’t used to happen very much in college football. Glad they’re doing well, just like all of our guys who leave and go other places. Wish them the best of luck.”
Lane Kiffin on Jones and Smith
Luck is something neither Wildcat defender has needed so far this season.
Jones leads Kentucky in tackles with 26, has 1.5 tackles for loss a quarterback hurry and a sack.
Jacquez Jones says going back to Oxford next week (his former team) will be a “bittersweet moment” but he understands that they are “going there for one reason.” pic.twitter.com/Qrv8Cz9VwV
— Tres Terrell (@TerrellTres) September 25, 2022
Smith has broken up three passes and picked one off. His first Kentucky interception was a memorable one. With the Wildcats tied at 16 at Florida, Smith picked off Anthony Richardson at the UK 35 and ran it back 65 yards for the touchdown that gave Kentucky a lead it would never relinquish.
Anthony Richardson OH NO 😲
Keidron Smith pick-six gives Kentucky the lead 🏈pic.twitter.com/1cEyrrRzJN
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 11, 2022
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops knows Saturday will be exciting for the two former Rebels, but he does not think the emotions will affect their play.
“They’re both older mature guys so I’m not overly concerned about it,” Stoops said. “I think they understand that they just got to go out there and play.”
When they play their former teammates, it might feel a bit strange. But one current Rebel describes his take on seeing Jones and Smith on the other side of the field.
“Their names have run across my head, and I miss them. But it’s business week you know, I’ve got to handle business.”
Ole Miss linebacker Austin Keys on Smith and Jones
While Jones and Smith will be available for Kentucky, the Wildcats will be without a major contributor on defense. Edge rusher J.J. Weaver will miss his second consecutive game due to a left arm injury.
Kentucky does get a weapon back on offense. Running back Chris Rodriguez will get his first action of the season after missing the first four games due to suspension. Stoops is trying to let his running back know he does not need to make up for lost time in his first game back on the field.
“He doesn’t need to come in and be our savior or anything like that, save our run game or any of that. We don’t need him to worry about that. We just need him to be him and we need the other guys around him (to do their job).”
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops on RB Chris Rodriguez’ return
This might be the first game action of the season for Rodriguez, but he has been on the practice field for weeks. That is something Stoops has had to monitor.
“Chris, it was just a matter of managing him while he was out,” Stoops said. “Just getting him the reps the last week or 2, as I mentioned last week, he was getting reps with the first- and second-team, mainly the second team, just different quarterbacks. Just to make sure he wasn’t totally removed from practicing our plays.”
Kentucky could not have picked a better time to have Rodriguez back on the field. The Wildcats are ranked seventh while Ole Miss comes in at No. 14.
The lofty rankings are not affecting how Stoops prepares his team for Saturday.
“We just play whoever is on the schedule,” Stoops said.
“Especially early in the year, we’ve got a lot to still work out. We had a lot of guys miss last week injury-wise who hopefully will be back this week. And we’re still figuring things out with a lot of new players, new coaches. We’re a work in progress. My hope is we continue to improve, maybe more than some other teams, because we didn’t have many returners and we have so many new people, so hopefully you improve throughout the year more than you normally would.”
The game kicks off at 11 a.m. and can be seen on ESPN.
(Feature image: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.