Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) celebrates with quarterback Will Levis (7) after a Smoke touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Youngstown State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

Kentucky travels to Ole Miss in ranked matchup

No. 14 Ole Miss faces their first major test of the season at home hosting No. 7 Kentucky on Saturday. With both teams undefeated, the stakes are high despite the teams being in separate divisions.

Even with Kentucky having a top-10 ranking, the Rebels are favored by 6.5 points at home. ESPN’s broadcast of Saturday’s game begins at noon with Sean McDonough, Todd Blackledge, Molly McGrath and Todd McShay on the call.

Kentucky sees the return of a major starter

For the first time since 1977, Kentucky ranked in the top-seven in the AP Poll. However, the Wildcats are underdogs on Saturday for the second time this season. Despite being 5.5-point underdogs against Florida, Kentucky won in The Swamp by 10 points for their third win over the Gators in five seasons.

Running back Chris Rodriguez, who was suspended for the first four games of the season, will make his season debut on Saturday. It is unsure whether or not he or Kavosiey Smoke will get the start. Rodriguez ranked second in the SEC in 2021 with 1,378 rushing yards while adding 10 touchdowns. Smoke, who has rushed for 263 yards and a touchdown this season, ranks No. 21 for rushing yards all-time at Kentucky.

However, it’s been the Wildcat passing attack and defense that has led them to an undefeated record.

Senior Will Levis is fourth in the SEC with 1,185 passing yards and third in the SEC with 10 passing touchdowns. Levis led the Wildcats to a struggling 31-23 win over Northern Illinois last weekend with 303 passing yards and four touchdowns. Receivers Tayvion Robinson caught seven passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, all career-highs. Receiver Baron Brown won the SEC’s Co-Freshman of the Week with four catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, Kentucky’s 13 points allowed per game ranks fifth in the SEC and No. 11 in the nation. Their 272 total yards per game allowed ranks fourth in the SEC and top-20 in the nation.

A win on Saturday would give the Wildcats their second win over a ranked SEC opponent and could surge them into the top-five, depending on the results of the other games.

First test for Ole Miss

The Rebels opened their third season under Lane Kiffen with a 4-0 record, giving them the No. 14 ranking in the most recent AP Poll. However, all four wins have come against unranked opponents and only one being a power-five opponent.

After dominating wins over Central Arkansas and Georgia Tech, Ole Miss trudged their way to a 35-27 win over Tulsa, despite being up 35-14 in the second quarter. 28 of their 35 points came in the second quarter.

Leading the offense is the dynamic duo of backs Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans, who both rank in the top-five for rushing yards in the SEC. Both of the backs help lead a team that is No. 1 in the SEC in rushing yards per game (280.8) and fourth in the nation in total rushing yards (1,123).

Judkins, a true freshman, leads the Rebels with 429 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Additionally, his 107.2 yards per game ranks second in the conference and 13th in the nation. Evans, a TCU transfer, has made the most of his time with his new team. The sophomore has rushed for 365 yards and four touchdowns. Evans did suffer a hip injury in the win over Tulsa but is expected to play on Saturday.

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Leading the passing attack is USC transfer quarterback Jaxson Dart, who has thrown for 697 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions. However, the Rebels’ rushing attack has proven to be more lethal and will be the focal point on Saturday.

A win on Saturday could possibly surge the Rebels into the top-10, their first appearance since the 2021 bowl season. Additionally, the Rebels will have their first 5-0 start since 2014, when they began the season 7-0.

Television coverage

With Saturday’s matchup being the closest-ranked teams playing, there will be plenty of television coverage live from Ole Miss prior to kickoff. Marty and McGee Presented by Old Trapper will be live from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. ET. Immediately after SEC Network’s weekley pregame show SEC Nation Presented by Johnsonville will be live from The Grove until kickoff at noon.

About Cam Parker

Cam is a fourth-year broadcast journalism sports and media major at the University of Florida. In addition to writing and recording radio trendings for WRUF, Cam covers North Florida HS football for The Prep Zone and Mainstreet Daily News and UF football and basketball for Inside the Gators.

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