Both the Ole Miss Rebels and Kentucky Wildcats had disappointing losses this past Saturday to open their 2020 seasons. However, it could also be argued there were some promising moments for each team, so a bounce-back this week will go a long way in shaping the course of this season.
Kentucky outgained Auburn 384-324, had more first downs (21 to 15), and ran 78 offensive plays to the Tigers' 57. But two fumbles, an interception, and a failed fake punt led to the Wildcats getting outscored 21-6 in the second half of an eventual 29-13 loss. Meanwhile, Ole Miss piled up 613 yards and 29 first downs but got overwhelmed in a 51-35 home loss to Florida in Lane Kiffin's debut as the Rebels' head coach.
Something tells me that whichever team has the more improved defense will decide this game.
Ole Miss at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -6.5
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
The Rebels might have the most exciting offense in the country. Make no mistake, Ole Miss has some serious weapons on offense. Jerrion Ealy, John Rhys Plumlee, Dontario Drummond, and, of course, starting quarterback Matt Corral, are all hyper-speed merchants. But you have to love how Kiffin used his weapons in so many ways vs. Florida, especially when he had both QBs Corral and Plumlee on the field at the same time. And Drummond caught a 45-yard touchdown while also throwing a 45-yard pass on a gadget play in the first half. There are a TON of tools in the Rebels' offensive shed this season.
She cried more more Moore. The Rebels have rebuilt well from the exodus of NWO (Nasty Wide Outs) from 2018, and senior receiver Elijah Moore has really taken the mantle of the go-to guy. Against the Gators, Moore collected 10 passes for 227 yards (If I'm doing my math correctly, which is always in question, that's a healthy 22.7 ypc average). Though Moore has big-play ability, look for Corral to distribute the ball a little better this week.
Is the up-speed tempo a benefit or a detriment? Kiffin's up-tempo offense is nice but that also means the Ole Miss defense is on the field a lot. Florida had a seven-minute advantage in time of possession. Conversely, the Wildcats held the ball for 13 minutes longer than Auburn. The ground game of quarterback Terry Wilson, along with running backs Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke, will play a big part in dictating the flow of this one.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
Well, you KNOW the Rebel defense is a sieve. One of the bright spots to Kentucky's offense last week was that Wilson brought the passing game back to the run-heavy Wildcats, going 24-of-37 for 239 yards. Plus, last year Ole Miss ranked dead last in the SEC and 120th in the FBS against the pass, giving up 278 yards per game. Back on Saturday, that didn't appear to change. Florida's Kyle Trask threw for 416 yards and six touchdowns. Egad. So you know Wilson and Co. can't wait to take a bunch of bites out of that porous D.
60 percent on 3rd down. Ole Miss proved to have a devil of a time getting off the field when it mattered, as the Gators converted three out of five times (60 percent) on third down. On the other side, the Wildcats also converted 60 percent of their third-down opportunities, going 12-for-20 against Auburn. A big reason is the return of Wilson, who looked comfortable and in control at quarterback.
Pay close attention to the line play. Especially near the end of each half. Kentucky has five of six starters returning up front with three juniors and three seniors, plus ESPN/SEC Network sideline reporter Cole Cubelic said this group could be the best offensive line in the SEC. That's some heady praise. And the weakest part of the 2020 Rebels? Probably the defensive line. So that's a bad double-whammy for Ole Miss. Their defense appeared to be gassed at the end of the first half last week against Florida, giving up two quick touchdowns in the final 3:10 of the frame.
Both teams played top-10 opponents last week and both had their bright spots, despite losing. Ole Miss was able to gain 613 yards and post 35 points against No. 5 Florida. And Kentucky played No. 8-ranked Auburn to a 15-13 game through three quarters before the Tigers pulled away.
Offense will be the calling card since the defenses will still be a work in progress for both. If you had to twist my arm, I'd say the Wildcats' D is a little further along than the Rebels, but we all still hope that there are extra lightbulbs available for the scoreboards at Kroger Field.
Prediction: Kentucky 42, Ole Miss 34
Podcast: CFB Week 5 Preview + Predictions
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.