Facing the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday afternoon, the Rebels earned their fourth victory of the season after a late D.K. Metcalf touchdown sealed the 37-34 win.
From the start, a back-and-forth affair resulted in a plethora of points. After the Rebels punted on the first possession of the game, the two teams combined for seven consecutive scoring drives. Jordan Ta’amu continued his impressive play, completing 77 percent of his passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Also impressing through the first half was young tight end Dawson Knox, who has missed time throughout the season due to injury. Coming up with big plays in the middle of the field, two of his three first-half catches converted third downs. His receiving counterpart, Van Jefferson, played a prominent role in the Ole Miss offense; the wide out caught three passes for 64 yards, including a 20-yard score. The home team’s run game, however, was quiet as Ta’amu and Jordan Wilkins combined for just 34 first-half rushing yards.
On the other side of the ball, Kentucky provided a balanced attack. Quarterback Stephen Johnson went 19-24 on the day, throwing for 204 yards. The Kentucky signal caller also caught a 32-yard pass from Lynn Bowden inside the 5-yard line, setting up a Benny Snell touchdown on the ground. Ole Miss was unable to find an answer for Snell, Johnson and the rest of the Wildcat ground attack, who combined for 107 yards in the opening half.
The Wildcats scored touchdowns on the last possession of the first half and the first possession of the second half to take a 27-17 lead. But after digging itself a 10-point hole, the Rebel defense surged. The “Landsharks” forced punts on four consecutive possessions and gave Ta’amu’s offense a chance to take control of the match. Two Gary Wunderlich field goals (including a career-long 49-yard kick) and a D.K. Metcalf 58-yard touchdown catch later, the Rebels found themselves on top 30-27, a score that held for most of the fourth quarter.
The tide soon ebbed back in favor of the Wildcats. With just over two minutes remaining in the game, Snell won a footrace to the edge, and Kentucky took a four-point lead.
Ta’amu and the offense were forced to score a touchdown to win the game. So they did.
The JUCO transfer quarterback, calm and collected, led the Rebels on a 14-play drive that left just five seconds on the clock. Ta’amu connected with six different receivers on the drive, and he picked up 10 yards rushing on the possession. To close out the road win, Metcalf made a spectacular toe-tapping grab in the back corner of the end zone. Ta’amu earned his first win as a starter and the Rebels collected their second SEC win (4-5 overall).
The game’s closeness showed up in the stat line. The Rebels only slightly out-gained the Wildcats 473-455 in total offense. Ole Miss converted 6 of 13 third downs, while Kentucky converted 7 of their 13. Both teams finished the game without a turnover.
The Rebels’ victory is even more impressive considering the key pieces lost throughout the game. Guard Alex Givens left the game with a concussion, and Daronte Bouldin filled in. Jordan Wilkins was slowed down by a preexisting ankle injury but finished the game while Breeland Speaks was ejected late in the first half after a targeting call.
Ultimately, reversing the despair after last week’s loss, the Rebel defense made key stops that allowed Ta’amu and his offense to thrive . The Rebels will next return home to play the University of Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday as head coach Matt Luke hopes to salvage a .500 season.