Ole Miss tempo could be a problem for UK defense

Receiver Tayvion Robinson will be looking for his second straight SEC road win when UK plays at Ole Miss today. (UK Athletics Photo)

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops will be making his first trip to Oxford when the Wildcats take on Mississippi in a noon kickoff today.

In his two previous games against the Rebels, the seventh-ranked Wildcats dropped both games by a combined margin of four points, including a 42-41 overtime loss at Kroger Field two years ago. Both teams are undefeated at 4-0 and going into the contest as ranked opponents for the first time since 1958. Ole Miss is ranked No. 14 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Kentucky has played three of its first four games at home and defeated Florida in Gainesville in its conference opener on Sept. 10. Despite the success against the Gators in the Swamp, Stoops says past history in road games won’t be a factor against Ole Miss.

“It’s a new opportunity, it’s a new game,” Stoops said. “Just because we handled some of that environment fairly well in the Florida game doesn’t mean it carries over. We have to have that same level of concentration.”

The Rebels have been known to throw the ball under Lane Kiffin, now in his third season in Oxford, but features a dominating running game that ranks fourth in the nation at 280 yards per game. The ground attack, coupled with a consistent passing game, creates a concern for Stoops and his staff.

“They can score in a hurry,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said. “That tempo can jump on you. You have to do a great job, you’ve got to play smart, disciplined throughout the entire game, not just early. It doesn’t matter if you have five great drives to start. If you don’t stay focused throughout the whole game, they’re not talking about how well you started, they’re talking about how poorly you finished.”

To help prepare the Wildcats for what they will see Saturday, Ole Miss transfers Jacquez Jones and Keidron Smith have been instrumental during pre-game preparations.

“We’re just glad to have (Jones and Smith) as a part of this defense,” White said. “They’ve obviously helped stress the urgency of just what kind of pace we’re going to face.”

Jones added, “It’s going to be super fast.”

“You’ve got to get them behind the sticks at the beginning,” he said. “Once they get the first down and get it rolling, it’s hard to slow them down.”

Stoops agreed and added the running attack gives Ole Miss an added edge on offense.

“They are running the ball extremely effective, and when you can run the ball like that it obviously creates explosive plays in the pass game,” Stoops said. “They haven’t needed to rely on that as much in the first four games but certainly they can do a lot of things and be as balanced as they want to be.”

Stoops credits Kiffin for centering his offense around his players instead of forcing the issue offensively.

“He adapts to the players that are around him, really always have,” Stoops said. “I go back to the days competing against Lane way back when I’m at Arizona and he’s at USC. Much different style of offense and much different style of defense. Obviously (I) just (have) a lot of respect for him and the way that he coaches and their aggressive nature.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Ole Miss, noon, 11 a.m. CST, Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.

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Keith Taylor is the sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com and via Twitter at keithtaylor21.

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