Report card: Grading Ole Miss' performances from Saturday's overtime win against Kentucky

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Four quarters weren't enough. But one overtime was.

Ole Miss came back from a 14-point deficit to defeat Kentucky 42-41 in overtime Saturday for Lane Kiffin's first win as Ole Miss' head coach. The win improved the Rebels to 1-1 on the season. 

The Rebels won in overtime after Kentucky missed its extra point after scoring a touchdown on its first possession. Ole Miss responded with a touchdown of its own on a pass from Matt Corral to Elijah Moore. Kicker Luke Logan made the extra point for Ole Miss to end the game.

Follow below for how the Clarion Ledger graded Ole Miss' offense, defense, special teams and coaching from Saturday's game.

More:5 things we learned from Ole Miss' huge overtime comeback win against Kentucky

Offense: A

In a lot of ways, Ole Miss’ offense lived up to its phenomenal Week 1 start with a repeat performance in Week 2. Corral was just as efficient through the air and proved to be absolutely lethal off play-action. Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah remain quality targets for him and sophomore Jonathan Mingo broke out as a strong secondary pass catching option. Jerrion Ealy ran the ball well. Things clicked.

But it wasn’t an every-drive type of clicking. Ole Miss’ offense repeatedly stalled in the second quarter when it had chances to seize the lead. Lane Kiffin’s attempts to work sophomore quarterback John Rhys Plumlee into the game failed to generate yardage. The offensive line didn’t do a great job of opening holes, forcing most of the Rebels’ rushing yards to come outside the tackle box. 

"I feel like they actually play better from behind," Kiffin said. "We start fast then we hit a lull when we're ahead or tied and then we play better behind. It was good."

That said, those issues went away in the second half. Other than a botched two-minute drill late in the fourth quarter, the offense clicked on all cylinders during the comeback. 

Defense: D

Say what you want about the Ole Miss defense, at least it doesn’t make the same mistake twice.

Last week Florida dominated Ole Miss through the air. This week Kentucky dominated Ole Miss with the run. Kentucky ran for 408 yards and six touchdowns Saturday. Three Kentucky players ran for more than 100 yards. The numbers would look even worse too if Ole Miss hadn’t caught Kentucky running back A.J. Rose from behind while he was showboating on what should’ve been a 75-yard touchdown on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage.

Something changed in the middle of the third quarter, though. Jamar Richardson stepped up with a sack and a pass breakup on consecutive plays to force Kentucky to kick a long field goal the Wildcats went on to miss. Then came a 3-and-out with Kentucky backed up in its end zone. Then came a thunderous turnover on downs caused by a MoMo Sanogo sack that let the offense take the lead on the next drive.

"It wasn't really a scheme thing," Kiffin sai We were there. Guys were missing tackles and we weren't playing physical up front. I thought we were getting knocked around on both sides of the ball."

Of course, Kentucky drove down the field for a touchdown to tie the score after Ole Miss took the lead with a lot of the Rebels' pass defense woes from last week recurring.

But for the most part, Ole Miss’ defensive line looked outmatched and out-talented by Kentucky’s veteran, talented offensive line. This isn’t surprising. The Rebels had to replace its entire defensive line from 2019 this season. But Saturday exposed how much work needs to be done to truly replace those guys instead of just having players stand in their spots.

Special teams: B

Mac Brown didn’t have his best punting day. Luke Logan didn’t need to kick field goals. Jerrion Ealy had a lengthy kickoff return but the offense stalled after it so it didn’t matter. 

The real missed opportunities on special teams came in what-could-have-been situations. Ole Miss had a chance to down a perfect Brown punt on the Kentucky 1-yard line but Ole Miss’ gunner didn’t know where his feet were and accidentally downed the punt in the end zone for a touchback. Toward the end of the third quarter Moore looked like he was going to return a punt for a big gain but the referees signaled him down for an “invalid signal” of fair catch. Those two plays could’ve swung the game, but instead they left the field position battle in Kentucky’s favor.

Of course, none of that mattered when the game winner came on an extra point in overtime. After missing an extra point to miss overtime last year against Mississippi State, seeing Logan on the other end of a missed kick in a one-point game might be the quick fix he needs to get his kicking leg back on rhythm.

Coaching: B+

Kiffin’s day of tough decisions started in earnest late in the second quarter. With the score tied 14-14 and just over four minutes left in the first half, Ole Miss faced a 4th-and-2 from its own 49-yard line. Kiffin elected to punt instead of keeping his offense on the field and Kentucky marched down the field for a touchdown after the punt.

Kiffin opted to run the ball and take the game to halftime after the score, choosing against using his 29 seconds and three timeouts to try to tie the score. Kentucky got the ball to start the third quarter and scored another touchdown, putting Ole Miss down 14 points.

Late in the third quarter Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby kept the offense on the field for a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line but a option play between Corral and running back Jerrion Ealy lost yards. Still, the failed conversion led to a quick Kentucky 3-and-out from bad field position and allowed Ole Miss to tie the score with a short field on the next drive.

All of those decisions added up to the most crucial decision. Kiffin initially sent out his offense to try a 4th-and-short with less than a minute remaining but opted afterwards to call timeout and punt, forcing overtime. Given how close Kentucky would've been to field position had the Rebels failed, punting was probably the wise decision. But history will never know what would've happened if Kiffin took the ultimate gamble on that late fourth down.

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.