After a brutal 38-37 comeback loss at home to the Arkansas Razorbacks last Saturday, Ole Miss will attempt to rebound against the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington this week.
For being revered as solely a basketball school, Kentucky has impressed on the football field for the past two seasons. So much so that many people have made the case that this team should be ranked in the top 25. Given their record, they certainly have a case. A 6-2 record as an SEC team should be impressive. However, when the only conference wins come against two teams that are winless in conference play (Tennessee and Missouri) and a similarly soft-scheduled South Carolina, the meaning of that record comes into doubt.
The bottom line is that Kentucky is winning games and Ole Miss is not, and this will probably be the case Saturday.
Kentucky’s running game is too good for the porous and inconsistent Rebel defense. Sophomore running back Benny Snell Jr. is a forced to be reckoned with and needs only 279 more yards to be the first ever Kentucky player to run for 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons. However soft their schedule may be, the Wildcats were bowl eligible in the month of October for the first time since 2007 behind Snell’s play.
We’ve seen what a strong running back can do to the Ole Miss defense. Ladarius Galloway (UT-Martin), Kerryon Johnson (Auburn), Ralph Webb (Vanderbilt), Darrel Williams (LSU), Darius Guice (LSU) and quarterback Jalen Hurts (Alabama) all had more than 100 yards rushing against Ole Miss. This is not counting the 140 yards rushing between the California Berkeley running backs’ split-carry attack and the 260 out of the Arkansas backfield. Clearly, if Snell plays even close to as good as he has for the past two seasons, it is going to be an exceptionally tough day for the Ole Miss defense.
On the flip-side, although the running game has certainly seen vast improvement from the beginning of the season, Ole Miss still is not a team that can consistently run the football effectively. Kentucky’s above average run defense will help to keep any opportunities to find a hole at bay.
The only truly notable weakness of this Kentucky team is its pass defense, which ranks well below average in Division 1 college football. Giving up 266 yards per game on average through the air, this team sits one spot below the University of North Texas in the category.
While Shea Patterson may have made this a more intriguing matchup with his elite passing numbers, backup-turn-starter Jordan Ta’Amu did not fall short of impressing in his first full game. Outside of his one interception, he played a calm and clean game against a pass defense that ranks considerably higher than Kentucky’s.
If Ta’Amu can keep improving on the form from his first full game in Division 1 college football, he can make this a high-scoring bout through feeding Mississippi’s “Nasty Wideouts.” However, the inability to stop opposing rushing attacks will rear its ugly head once again, and may be too insurmountable for the Rebels to get one game closer to .500.