Ole Miss vs. Kentucky: Not Your Traditional Homecoming Game
OXFORD, Miss. — Traditionally, football programs have selected Homecoming games against an opponent who is not quite as formidable as others on the schedule. Who wants to lose their Homecoming game, right?
This week’s Ole Miss vs. Kentucky game is quite the exception as the No. 7-ranked Wildcats will come into Vaught-Hemingway on Saturday hoping to hold on to their ranking and perhaps move up considerably with a win over the Rebels. However, the No. 14 Rebels are preparing to defend their home field and will carry a record of 12 straight home game wins into Saturday’s contest.
Ole Miss and Kentucky will be meeting for the 45th time on Saturday in a series that dates back to 1944. The Rebels lead the series with an NCAA-recognized record of 28-14-1 where Ole Miss holds a 7-2 advantage in games played in the Vaught.
So, what do the two programs bring to the table for Saturday’s contest?
A Look at the Wildcats
Coach Mark Stoops, in his 10th season as the head coach of the Wildcats and currently the winningest head coach in Kentucky football history, will bring an offense that ranks No. 15 in the country for passing efficiency and No. 26 in overall passing offense.
The Wildcats sport a 4-0 record with one of the wins coming over a top 25 program – their victory over then-No. 12 Florida in week two.
On the field, senior quarterback Will Levis leads Kentucky’s offense as he ranks 18th in the country in passing yards (1,185) and passing touchdowns (10) while connecting on 67.5 percent of his passes so far this year.
Highly-touted running back Chris Rodriguez is available to play in Saturday’s game after being out for the first four games of the season. He is the SEC’s returning leading rusher from 2021 and will bring a burst of energy to a running attack that has struggled without him on the field.
Defensively, the Wildcats have only allowed an average of 13 points per contest this season. The unit is led by linebacker Jordan Wright who is the team’s season leader in TFLs, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, and blocks.
A Look at the Rebels
Rebels’ head coach Lane Kiffin will face Kentucky for the third time in his career, with his two wins against the Wildcats coming in overtime victories.
Ole Miss enters the game Saturday with a running attack that leads the SEC and ranks No. 4 in the FBS with 280.8 rushing yards per game.
For two games in a row, the Rebels have run for 300 or more yards. Freshman Quinshon Judkins has a made a significant impact on the Ole Miss offense and ranks in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards (429), rushing yards per game (107.2), and rushing touchdowns (5).
Quarterback Jaxson Dart, who has a 62.2 completion percentage and five touchdowns, will be looking to connect with wide receiver Jonathan Mingo to take the Rebels down the field. Mingo is No. 2 in the SEC and No. 13 in the FBS in yards per reception (21.4).
The defense aims to disrupt Levis as his completion percentage when pressured is 45.7% — much lower than when he has a clean pocket where he then sports a 76.8% completion percentage As a team, the Ole Miss defense is third in the SEC and No. 25 in the FBS with 7.0 tackles for loss per game.
The Kentucky offensive line, on the other hand, has given up 16 total sacks this season, a whopping four per game. This places the Wildcats dead last in the conference; whereas, Ole Miss leads the league — only giving up two total sacks thus far for an average of half a sack per game.
Given those gaudy numbers, one can expect the Rebels to pressure Levis as early and often as possible. If they can do that and slow down Rodriguez, defensive coordinator Chris Partridge’s group could improve its ranking of No. 6 in the nation in scoring defense.
Saturday’s contest marks only the second time that Ole Miss and Kentucky have met while both were ranked – the other came in 1958.
Game info – “Stripe the Vaught”
Kickoff is set for 11:00 a.m. in Vaught Hemingway where it will be not only “Time to Lock the Vaught” but “Time to Stripe the Vaught” as well. Fans should check their section on the stadium chart and wear the appropriate color.
Rebels fans, come early and bring some noise. It’s time to show Kentucky what a loud Ole Miss crowd brings to the mix! Hotty Toddy! Beat Kentucky!
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.