By The Associated Press
LEXINGTON, Ky. — After three quarters, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt felt good about the Rebels’ chances of winning their first Southeastern Conference game of the year.
That didn’t last long.
The Rebels held a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter. but allowed Kentucky to reel off a handful of big plays that led to the Wildcats’ 30-13 win Saturday.
Ole Miss (2-7, 0-6) took the lead in the third quarter on a 21-yard pass from Randall Mackey to Nickolas Brassell; the seven points were the first the Rebels had scored in the third quarter of any SEC game this season.
They held the lead until Kentucky freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith, making his first career start, hit La’Rod King for a 38-yard touchdown pass with 12:22 left. The Wildcats missed the point-after attempt, keeping Ole Miss within a field goal. But the Rebels’ offense stalled, and Kentucky won going away.
“We felt good,” Nutt said. “We felt good about the sideline and everyone involved. We were making plays; we just didn’t make any in the fourth quarter to win this game. And that is what’s really frustrating.”
Kentucky (4-5, 1-4) struggled to move the ball early, but held the Rebels to field goals on both of their first-quarter drives into the red zone. On the first play of the second quarter, Kentucky’s CoShik Williams scored on a 2-yard run to give the Wildcats their first lead in the second quarter or later of a Southeastern Conference game this season.
Smith was playing well enough, but failed to put the Wildcats over the top despite plenty of chances. They had four drives in the first half that ended between the Ole Miss 30-yard line and the 50; one ended in a 48-yard field goal, one ended in a missed field goal and two ended in punts.
Smith’s starting assignment was forced upon coach Joker Phillips after first-stringer Morgan Newton suffered a high ankle sprain last week against Mississippi State. Newton dressed for Saturday’s game but was only available in case of emergency.
Nutt said he knew Smith’s strength was the deep ball, and Kentucky went to it early. On the Wildcats’ first drive after Williams’ second-quarter score, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had Smith throwing deep on three of four plays. One connected for 28 yards, but the other two fell incomplete and the Wildcats had to punt.
Smith’s next deep ball was the 38-yard go-ahead touchdown to King that proved to be the game-winner. Smith also had a 55-yarder to King that set up a Williams touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game out of one-possession reach.
“In the beginning of the game, I was a little bit nervous,” Smith said. “But Coach told me we have to get a touchdown so we can relax a bit. Fortunately, we got that touchdown (in the second quarter) and then we started having a lot more fun. That opened it up for me.”
The Rebels didn’t help themselves Saturday. Among their struggles to move the ball, they also had 11 penalties that cost them 93 yards. They also had a touchdown catch called back because of offensive pass interference.
“I thought we played really hard,” Nutt said. “I thought we were juiced up and went to another level in the third quarter. Bottom line, nothing is good enough when you don’t win. Everything looks worse.”
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.