▪ Kentucky senior Will Levis (1,185 passing yards on 67.5% completions with 10 touchdowns vs. four interceptions) continues to perform well even while taking a physical pounding. In spite of being sacked five times in UK’s 31-23 win over Northern Illinois last week, Levis completed 18 of 26 passes for 303 yards and four TDs with no interceptions. A 6-foot-3, 232-pound product of Madison, Conn., Levis has already been sacked 16 times on the season.
▪ Though thought of as a drop-back passer, Mississippi’s Jaxson Dart (697 passing yards on 62.2% completions with five TD throws vs. two picks; 201 yards rushing, an average of 6.9 yards a carry) has emerged as a dual threat. The 6-2, 220-pound sophomore, a transfer from Southern California, ran for 116 yards on 13 carries (an average of 8.9 yards) in the Rebels’ 35-27 victory over Tulsa last week.
▪ Kentucky star Christopher Rodriguez (2,740 career rushing yards) will make his season debut at Ole Miss Saturday after missing the season’s first four games due to a suspension. “He doesn’t need to come in and be our savior or anything like that or save our run game — any of that. We don’t need him to worry about that, we just need him to be him,” UK Coach Mark Stoops says of the 5-11, 224-pound senior. In Kentucky’s 42-41 overtime loss to Ole Miss in 2020, Rodriguez ran for 133 yards and two TDs. Senior Kavosiey Smoke (263 rushing yards, one TD, 5.2 yards per carry average) played well in the absence of Rodriguez, but lost a crucial fumble just before halftime last week that led to an NIU TD.
▪ Mississippi’s Zach Evans (374 yards rushing, four TDs, 6.2 ypc) and Quinshon Judkins (440 yards, five TDs, 6.1 ypc) may be the best 1-2 running-back duo in the country. Judkins, a 5-11, 210-pound true freshman from Pike Road, Ala., ran for a career-high 140 yards and two TDs vs. Tulsa. A transfer from TCU, Evans, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, ran for 48 yards on 10 carries vs. Tulsa but sat out the second half due to what Rebels Coach Lane Kiffin described as “a medical thing.” On Monday, Kiffin said of both Evans and SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV (75 rushing yards, four TDs) “that I would hope they go” vs. UK. Bentley missed the Tulsa game due to injury.
▪ Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson (20 catches, 349 yards, two TDs) and true freshman Barion Brown (13, 201, two) each had over 100 yards receiving vs. NIU. The 5-11, 187-pound Robinson had seven catches for 147 yards and two TDs vs. Northern Illinois, while Brown caught four passes for 102 yards and two scores. True freshman Dane Key (15, 241, three) was held without a TD catch by NIU for the first time in his college career but caught two passes for 15 yards.
▪ Mississippi’s Jonathan Mingo (12 catches, 257 yards, one TD) is a big-play threat. The 6-2, 225-pound senior is averaging 21.4 yards a catch, second-best in the SEC. In the 2020 win over UK, Mingo caught eight passes for 128 yards and two TDs. A transfer from Mississippi State, Malik Heath (13, 220, three) caught four passes for 75 yards vs. Tulsa. Ex-Louisville wideout Jordan Watkins, a former Butler High School standout and a one-time UK recruiting commit, has caught six passes for 69 yards.
▪ Kentucky senior Brenden Bates (six catches, 70 yards, one TD), a 6-5, 264-pound Cincinnati product, caught two passes for 7 yards vs. NIU. Ex-Bowling Green High School star Jordan Dingle (five, 61), a 6-4, 236-pound redshirt freshman, had a 19-yard reception vs. Northern Illinois.
▪ Mississippi’s Michael Trigg (13 receptions, 87 yards, three TDs) came with Jaxson Dart as a transfer from USC. In the win over Tulsa, Trigg caught three passes for 16 yards. “Trigg has suffered statistically in the passing game by what’s happened. If you look at the last two games, run-to-pass ratio, we’re like Navy or something,” Lane Kiffin says, referencing the run-heavy Midshipmen.
▪ Kentucky right guard Tashawn Manning, a transfer from Auburn, returned as a starter vs. Northern Illinois after missing the Youngstown State game due to injury. Even as UK has struggled to pass protect and open holes in the running game, highly touted, true freshmen tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin has not gotten the call. “He’s a really good young man that’s working really hard,” Mark Stoops says. “He’s working his way into shape and I believe will be a very good player. When that is, we don’t need to rush people.”
▪ Mississippi right tackle Jeremy James, a 6-5, 305-pound junior, has made 27 consecutive starts and is vital to the Rebels’ rushing attack. Left guard Nick Broeker, a 6-5, 315-pound senior, has also started 27 straight games. Broeker moved from tackle to guard in the offseason.
▪ Kentucky end Tre’vonn Rybka and nose guard Justin Rogers turned in strong performances vs. Northern Illinois. A 6-4, 275-pound redshirt sophomore from Dickson, Tenn., Rybka made three stops, including two solo tackles. Rogers, a 6-3, 332-pound junior from Detroit, also had three tackles.
▪ Mississippi end Cedric Johnson, a 6-3, 265-pound junior, was active vs. Tulsa. The Mobile, Ala., product had four tackles, two QB hurries and shared in a TFL. Nose guard JJ Pegues, a 6-2, 315-pound product of Oxford, Miss., who transferred home from Georgia Tech, missed the Tulsa game due to injury. Lane Kiffin said Saturday that he expected Pegues to play vs. UK.
▪ Kentucky OLB/rush end J.J. Weaver is expected to miss his second straight game due to an elbow injury. MLB Jacquez Jones (team-high 26 tackles) made 12 stops last week against NIU. The 6-foot, 233-pound super-senior will be facing his former team, as the Tuscaloosa, Ala., product played his first three seasons of college football for Ole Miss. In the Rebels’ 2020 win over UK, Jones made seven tackles for Mississippi.
▪ A transfer from Central Michigan, Mississippi’s Troy Brown leads the Rebels in tackles (29), QB hurries (four) and is tied for the team lead in pass breakups (two). Khari Coleman, a transfer from TCU, wrecked the Troy offense in the Rebels’ 28-10, season-opening win. The 6-2, 220-pound junior had five tackles for loss and two sacks vs. Troy. Coleman missed the Tulsa game due to injury, but is expected back this week.
▪ Kentucky strong safety Tyrell Ajian is battling an undisclosed injury. “(It) was bothering him a little bit Saturday,” Mark Stoops says. “Hopefully he will get back to full strength this week.” Like Jacquez Jones, CB Keidron Smith is a transfer from Mississippi. He had five stops against Kentucky in the 2020 game. “Both really great kids. It was awesome to be around them,” Lane Kiffin says of Smith and Jones.
▪ Mississippi safety AJ Finley, a 6-3, 205-pound senior from Mobile, Ala., had nine tackles and an interception vs. Tulsa. True freshman cornerback Davison Igbinosun, a product of Union, N.J., is a player for whom Kentucky made a strong recruiting push. In 85 pass-coverage snaps, Igbinosun has allowed only five receptions for 22 yards.
▪ Kentucky place-kicker Matt Ruffolo is second in the SEC in field-goal percentage, having made seven of eight with a long of 50. Two seasons ago, in UK’s 42-41 OT loss to Ole Miss, Ruffolo had a nightmare. He missed a 49-yard field goal in the third quarter, then misfired on an extra point in overtime. Punter Colin Goodfellow is averaging 40.6 yards a kick and has stopped four of 13 punts inside the 20. Punt returner Tayvion Robinson is averaging 6 yards return but is saving UK a lot of “hidden yardage” because he fields punts in the air, not letting them hit the ground and roll.
▪ Mississippi place-kicker Jonathan Cruz is a transfer from Charlotte. In 2021, Cruz went 10-of-15 on field-goal tries for the 49ers with a long of 56 yards. So far at Ole Miss, he’s 1-of-2 with his make from 41 yards. At 6-5, 235 pounds, Fraser Masin is a giant of a punter. The product of Brisbane, Australia, punted five times in the win over Tulsa for an average of 43.2 yards. On the season, he is averaging 41.3 yards and has stopped six of 15 kicks inside the 20.
Kentucky 31, Mississippi 30.