How Kentucky (6-2, 3-2 SEC) and Mississippi (3-5, 1-4 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:
Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson added to his folk-hero status last week, directing the Wildcats on a 72-yard drive and scoring the game-winning touchdown on an 11-yard run with 33 seconds left in a 29-26 victory over Tennessee. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior suffered an injury to his left shoulder (non-throwing) last week and was beaten up physically before that. The pounding he has taken may explain why Johnson has completed only 51.9 percent of his passes in the past three games after completing 64.8 percent in UK’s first five contests. Mississippi’s Jordan Ta’amu made his first start last week in a 38-37 loss against Arkansas in place of the injured Shea Patterson, and played well. The 6-2, 212-pound junior from Pearl City, Hawaii, completed 20 of 30 passes for 368 yards and showed dual-threat capabilities by running for 76 yards and two TDs.
UK’s Benny Snell was SEC co-Offensive Player of the Week after enjoying his best game of the season (180 yards and three TDs on 27 carries) vs. Tennessee. With 721 rushing yards for the season, Snell is up to third in the SEC. Mississippi’s Jordan Wilkins ran for 118 yards with a 64-yard touchdown jaunt against Arkansas. The 6-1, 217-pound senior is averaging 5.9 yards a carry (586 yards) and is also a capable receiver (20 receptions).
Kentucky’s Tavin Richardson made two crucial plays against Tennessee. The 6-3, 214-pound sophomore made a clever adjustment on the ball and caught a 36-yard pass from Lynn Bowden from the Wildcat formation to set up a second-quarter UK TD. On what became the game-winning drive, Richardson leaped high into the air to catch a Stephen Johnson pass, then drug the toes on both of his feet just in bounds for a 16-yard gain. “Great, great plays that we needed,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said. Mississippi has the best wide receiver unit in the SEC. Sophomore A.J. Brown (41 catches, 765 yards, six TDs), sophomore Van Jefferson (34 catches, 345 yards), junior DaMarkus Lodge (28 catches, 511 yards, six TDs) and redshirt freshman D.K. Metcalf (30 receptions, 479 yards, four TDs) are all potent threats.
Kentucky tight ends C.J. Conrad (nine catches, 195 yards, three TDs) and Greg Hart (two, 23, one) have not had a reception since Hart’s 20-yard TD catch vs. Eastern Michigan four games ago. Yet Mark Stoops said “great play” by the UK tight ends in a blocking role was integral to the Cats’ success rushing the football vs. Tennessee. More of a hybrid than a pure tight end, Ole Miss sophomore Dawson Knox caught three passes for 24 yards against Arkansas. The 6-4, 250-pound Nashville product (12 catches for 156 yards) is athletic and a difficult “cover” for most linebackers.
After much shuffling of personnel early in the season, Kentucky appears to have settled on a six-man rotation: ex-Woodford County standout Drake Jackson at center, Bunchy Stallings (right) and Logan Stenberg (left) at guards with Kyle Meadows (left and right), George Asafo-Adjei (right) and Landon Young (left) rotating at tackle. A lavishly praised high school recruit, 6-6, 320-pound Mississippi sophomore left tackle Greg Little has dropped 20 pounds from his playing weight as a true freshman. Center Sean Rawlings was in the concussion protocol and missed the Arkansas game but Ole Miss Coach Matt Luke things Rawlings may be back this week.
Kentucky true freshman Quinton Bohanna is listed first team ahead of seniors Naquez Pringle and Matt Elam at nose guard this week after a strong performance against Tennessee. Mississippi “rush end” Marquis Haynes is disruptive (6.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss) and end Breeland Speaks has five sacks. The Rebels are last in the SEC, however, against the run (allowing 260.5 yards a game).
Kentucky WLB Jordan Jones was SEC co-Defensive Player of the Week after making 13 tackles (two TFL) against Tennessee. SLB Josh Allen got his seventh sack vs. the Vols and is second in the SEC. Ole Miss WLB DeMarquis Gates had a career-high 15 tackles vs. Arkansas. The 6-2, 221-pound senior has had three straight double-digit-tackle games and is second in the SEC with 72 tackles.
Last in the SEC against the pass and facing a lethal Mississippi wide receiving corps, Kentucky has elevated junior-college transfer Lonnie Johnson to first-team cornerback ahead of longtime starter Chris Westry. A 6-3, 215-pound product of Gary, Ind., Johnson had three tackles, a QB sack and a pass breakup vs. the Vols. Mississippi CB Myles Hartsfield made 10 tackles against Arkansas. CB Javien Hamilton has three interceptions and free safety C.J. Moore has two.
Kentucky senior place-kicker Austin MacGinnis is 13-of-18 on field goals with a long of 53. Punter Matt Panton is averaging 42.8 yards and has placed 16 of his 44 kicks inside the 20-yard line. UK is first in the nation in punt returns (20.8 yards average) though that is largely a function of the Cats having only returned five due to fair catching most kicks. Mississippi PK Gary Wunderlich is accurate (12-of-15 field goals) but not a deep threat (long of 39 yards). Punter Will Gleeson is averaging 42.2 yards with 12 of 29 kicks inside the 20. Kickoff returner Jaylon Jones is a weapon. He had a 97-yard TD against South Alabama and is first in the SEC in kickoff return yards (703).
Kentucky 34, Mississippi 31