At the beginning of each college football season, some commentator will make a joke about traditional basketball powers who start off the season successfully in football. For example, Kansas and Duke, traditional basketball powers, faced off earlier this year as undefeated teams. It’s weird to see those schools in football stadiums . . . and playing well!
That’s sort of how I look at Kentucky this year. When I think of the Wildcats, I think of Rupp Arena, John Calipari, and a star-studded list of NBA alums. This year, I should be thinking of Will Levis, Mark Stoops, and Kroger Field.
This Saturday offers us a match-up between the Wildcats and the Ole Miss Rebels. Both teams are undefeated, with hopes of knocking off the more traditional powers at the top of their respective divisions and making it to the SEC Championship Game.
Kentucky Wildcats Strategy: Air Attack
Over the last half-decade, Kentucky has been a team primarily driven by the ground game. Over those seasons, they’ve averaged between 200-300 yards rushing. This year? They’re an air attack.
Kentucky is currently 4th in the SEC in passing, and 26th in the nation, averaging 296.3 yards per game. Quarterback Will Levis is on pace for a 3000-yard season. If Levis hits that yardage mark, he’ll be the first 3000-yard passer the Wildcats have had since 2010.
The Kentucky defense has also held up after losing many of their starters from last year, and has only allowed 52 points throughout the first 4 weeks of the season. That’s good for 3rd overall team defense in the Southeastern Conference.
Ole Miss Strategy: Rushing Offense and Takeaways
The Ole Miss Rebels are coming off of their first 10-win regular season in school history. Led by Lane Kiffin, the Rebels racked up multiple wins against ranked teams on their way to a loss against the Baylor Bears in the Sugar Bowl.
Generally known as an offensive-focused coach, the 2022 Rebels are led by their ground game. They currently lead the entire Southeastern Conference in rushing, with 1123 yards total, averaging 281 yards per game. Quinshon Jenkins and Zach Evans are both in the top 5 individual rushing leaders in the conference, both averaging at least 6 yards per rushing attempt.
The Rebels will also need to continue their improvement on defense to be successful this year. The 2021 team improved on the points they allowed per game by over 13 points (from 38.3 pts per game to 24.7 points per game). This was the 2nd biggest points-per-game reduction of teams in the Power 5 conferences.
They were very opportunistic when it came to takeaways, as they tied for 2nd in turnovers in the SEC with 21. That trend has continued so far in 2022 – the Rebels have 4 interceptions through as many games, and are 2nd in sacks in the SEC with 13.