By PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Football is often less complicated than it’s made out to be. Keep the ball, score touchdowns and win.
It’s a recipe that has escaped Ole Miss at times, but not Saturday. In a game critical to both teams as they position themselves for a possible run to bowl-eligibility, Ole Miss forced three first-half turnovers, turning each one into a touchdown en route to a 42-35 SEC win over Kentucky before a Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 55,344.
The Rebels (3-2, 1-1 SEC) scored 55 points last week and their 187 points through five games are the most to start a season since 1935.
“And we can score more,” said Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, who practically apologized for not using his receivers more.
Kentucky (3-2, 0-2 SEC) outgained Ole Miss 424-301, but the Rebels often had short distances to travel.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline was 27 for 46 for 300 yards, and Ole Miss gave up two 100-yard receiving games for the second-straight week, but the Rebels gained their first interception of the season and played their first turnover-free game.
“To get that turnovers and then to capitalize, that was huge. That won the game,” Nutt said.
The Rebels didn’t score only with a short field. They took the second-half kick 75 yards with Brandon Bolden scoring on an 8-yard pass from Jeremiah Masoli.
Near the end of the third, the Rebels got a 73-yard punt return from Jesse Grandy to set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Masoli to tight end Ferbia Allen. The Wildcats covered Bolden and left Allen alone, and the Rebels had a 22-point lead with 14 minutes, 53 seconds to play.
“The punt return was bad for us, and you can’t go on the road and turn the ball over like that three times in the first half,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “We had two turnovers where their offense went on the field with 10 yards to go.”
A Randall Cobb fumble led to the Rebels’ first points, a 4-yard run by Rodney Scott, the drive covering 11 yards.
The Rebels’ second touchdown was Masoli’s 8-yard pass to fullback H.R. Greer, set up by Charles Sawyer’s interception and 36-yard return to the 9.
“Capitalizing on the turnovers, that was huge. It kept us in the game,” Masoli said. “We weren’t having success like we wanted on a couple of plays, and the defense gave us great field position.”
Masoli finished 9 for 17 passing for 90 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, his first such game at Ole Miss.
Nutt said he became conservative when the Rebels had their backs to the goalline in the second half.
Ole Miss was up 42-20 but a 73-yard punt by the Wildcats changed field position, and the Rebels’ inability to get a first down gave Kentucky the ball at the Ole Miss 45 and allowed for a quick score.
Hartline passed to Cobb for a 41-yard gain on the crossing route, and two plays later the Cats were in the end zone.
Ole Miss got a fourth-down stop on Kentucky’s next possession, and the Wildcats’ final points came with 1:34 left when Hartline capped a 60-yard drive in 1:46 with a 13-yard fade to 6-foot-5 Chris Matthews.
After the on-side kick attempt went out of bounds the Rebels were able to run out the clock.
Bolden capped his first 100-yard SEC game (23-108) with a 33-yard run to the Kentucky 21 set up the kneel-down formation.
“These teams we’ve played the last two weeks, they both can score,” Nutt said. “Those turnovers are the most precious thing you have, and when you take them and get 21 points, you win the game.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600