Kentucky has just two wins in Oxford, but the Cats have spoiled Ole Miss homecoming before

Kentucky football’s Saturday game in Oxford, Mississippi, is something of a rare occurrence for the Wildcats.

Despite both UK and Ole Miss being founding members of the Southeastern Conference and first facing off against each other in football in 1937, the Wildcats have played at the Rebels’ campus stadium just 10 times. Kentucky has not played in Oxford since 2010. It has played there just four times in the last 30 years.

Wins in Oxford have been even rarer for Kentucky. The Wildcats last won there in 1978.

Kentucky’s only other win at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium came on Oct. 1, 1949, when Johnny Vaught was in just his third season coaching the Rebels and his name had not yet been added to the stadium.

That victory was one of the most shocking in program history though, with an underdog Kentucky team embarrassing Vaught’s Rebels 47-0 on homecoming.

“The explosive Wildcats from Kentucky turned several thousand of the homecoming fans into home-going fans,” Ed Ashford wrote in the Oct. 2, 1949, edition of the Sunday Herald-Leader. “Ole Miss supporters, shocked at seeing their beloved Rebels completely outplayed by an underdog Kentucky eleven, began leaving the stadium late in the third quarter and there was a steady stream of departees all through that last unbelievable quarter which saw the Cats score a trio of sensational touchdowns against a completely demoralized Mississippi eleven.”

Kentucky’s 47-0 win in Oxford is still the Wildcats’ second largest margin of victory ever in an SEC game. It is the largest in an SEC road game.

Writing four years after the end of World War II, Ashford compared the statement Kentucky made that day to coach Paul “Bear” Bryant dropping “an atom bomb in the Southeastern Conference grid ranks.” Courier-Journal reporter Larry Boeck called the game “the bitterest day since Appomattox for a disappointed homecoming crowd.”

It would have been difficult for anyone to predict the lopsided score before the game.

Ole Miss had won the last two games in the series by a combined 14 points. Vaught had yet to lose at Hemingway Stadium in his three seasons as coach. His Ole Miss teams had never been shut out in 22 games.

The Rebels had won an SEC championship in Vaught’s first season as coach in 1947. A year later, they were 8-1 and had opened the 1949 season with consecutive 40-7 wins over Memphis State and Auburn.

Kentucky was 5-3-1 in 1948 but had opened the 1949 season with a 71-7 blowout of Mississippi Southern and a 19-0 win at LSU. Still, The Lexington Leader story previewing the game was headlined “Cats know lone touchdown won’t get job done today.”

“Kentucky, already noted for its fast horses ‘along with other assets,’ has produced another type of quadraped this season — a dark horse,” Wayne Thompson wrote after the game for The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. “And that animal, sometimes called a Wildcat, trampled the Ole Miss Rebels into the turf of Hemingway stadium Saturday afternoon.”

Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant led the 1949 Kentucky Wildcats to a 9-3 record and Orange Bowl berth.
Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant led the 1949 Kentucky Wildcats to a 9-3 record and Orange Bowl berth.

The game actually started on an inauspicious note for Kentucky when future UK coach Jerry Claiborne’s attempt at a short kickoff backfired when Ole Miss gained possession at midfield. On the first play from scrimmage, Eulas Jenkins ran 43 yards for the Rebels to set up a first down at the Kentucky 8-yard line.

Ole Miss advanced just 2 more yards though as Kentucky defenders swatted down passes on third and fourth down to regain possession.

Later in the fourth quarter, Bill Leskovar gave Kentucky its first lead with a 5-yard touchdown run. The Wildcats added a single touchdown in the second quarter, two in the third quarter and three in the fourth to put the game out of reach.

Kentucky’s defense intercepted six Ole Miss passes in the game and scored two of the Wildcats’ seven touchdowns.

“It was a stunned crowd that sat in on the game,” Ashford wrote. “Mississippi fans, Kentucky fans, scouts, newspaper and radiomen all were shaking their heads, wondering if they could believe their eyes.”

The 1949 game was Kentucky’s second trip to Oxford in three years. The Wildcats would return there in 1951 and 1953 but then would not play on the Ole Miss campus again until 1978.

For much of its history, Ole Miss played many of its home games in Jackson or Memphis. Kentucky has played the Rebels six times in Jackson and five times in Memphis. The Wildcats are 11-11-1 against Ole Miss in Lexington but just 3-18 everywhere else.

Capacity at Hemingway Stadium was originally listed at 24,000. Major renovations in 1988, 1998, 2002 and 2016 expanded capacity to 64,038. Vaught’s name was added to the stadium in 1982.

Saturday’s game will mark the first time Kentucky has played at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium since the north end of the stadium was closed to provide additional student seating. The 10 largest crowds in stadium history have all come since the 2016 expansion.

Playing exactly 73 years after the 1949 blowout, the two teams will meet on homecoming again Saturday. No. 7 Kentucky is the underdog again, with Las Vegas odds-makers establishing No. 14 Ole Miss as a slight favorite.

A Kentucky blowout would be just as surprising as it was in 1949, but if the Wildcats can record their third win in Oxford perhaps they can also follow the path of the 1949 team. Bryant’s Wildcats rode the momentum of the Ole Miss blowouts to shutout wins over Georgia and the Citadel in the next two weeks.

The 1949 Wildcats finished the regular season at 9-2 to earn the only Orange Bowl bid in program history. Kentucky lost to Santa Clara in the Orange Bowl, but a year later won its only SEC championship, beat No. 1 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and were retroactively awarded a national championship claim by a computer ranking decades later.

“The final score … undoubtedly brought consternation to other SEC coaches, especially those whose teams are scheduled to meet the Wildcats later in the season,” Ashford wrote after the 1949 game.

Another win in Oxford this weekend, and SEC coaches will surely have a similar reaction.

Next game

No. 7 Kentucky at No. 14 Mississippi

When: Noon Saturday


Records: UK 4-0 (1-0 SEC), Mississippi 4-0 (0-0)

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