By Dr. John Huang
It was only October 3, but Halloween came early to Kroger Field on Saturday night. With 10,000 or so masked, tailgate-starved, socially distanced revelers looking for treats, the Ole Miss Rebels came onto the Indian burial ground above the venue formerly known as Commonwealth Stadium and tricked their way to a demoralizing 42 – 41 upset overtime victory over the shell-shocked Kentucky Wildcats.
Using an up-tempo offense, Coach Lane Kiffin put on his best Chucky impression and bludgeoned his way into the terror-stricken Kentucky defense for a grand total of 459 yards. Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral played the role of Norman Bates’ mom to perfection, delivering blow after blow—going 24 for 29 for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns in his Oscar-worthy performance. Time after time, it was the defenseless UK secondary shuddering in horror—like Janet Leigh on the wrong end of the knife. Beleaguered UK cornerback Kelvin Joseph channeled Linda Blair in The Exorcist—his head on a swivel all evening as the Ole Miss receivers ran circles around his clueless teammates.
What transpired at the beginning of the game would be enough to drive any coach psycho. Ole Miss took the opening kick and marched right down the field on an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive taking only 2:22 off the clock. Kentucky’s A.J. Rose responded on the next series with a 72-yard jaunt off tackle—heading for an apparent touchdown—only to be caught from behind when he inexplicably began to celebrate too early. When he fumbled on the one-yard line two plays later when attempting to cross the goal line again, it looked like it might just be one of those days—or worse yet, one of those years.
By the end of the game, Mark Stoops had to feel like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. After all, who wouldn’t lose their mind after watching your team blow a two-touchdown lead and your field goal kicker miss an extra point wide right that would ultimately cost you the game. The UK coach was last seen running off the field—perhaps a bit unhinged—chasing after the men in the striped shirts to vent his case over a plethora of perceived questionable rulings and blown calls.
But this game was no Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Kentucky’s offense performed admirably, racking up 559 yards of their own. The Wildcats’ rushing attack was virtually unstoppable with a hat trick of career-high rushing performances. Quarterback Terry Wilson rushed 22 times for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns, running back Chris Rodriguez had 17 carries for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns, and A.J. Rose finished the night with 117 yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts.
How do you lose a game with numbers like that? Mark Stoops was gingerly asked how his team could be so dominant on the ground and yet still lose.
“Certainly with this [Mississippi] style offense and next week [against Mississippi State], it won’t matter,” Stoops responded, fumbling around for the right answer. “Time of possession won’t matter…it’s hard for me to be exact here right now. A lot of things are running through my head.”
Now that sounds like a coach in Misery. To add insult to injury, it wasn’t like Kentucky’s passing game was missing in action either. Terry Wilson completed 14 of 18 passes for 151 yards and Josh Ali hauled in 7 catches for 88 yards in another strong performance.
In the end, it came down to mistakes. As Stoops tried to explain, it was the bone-headed penalties, being out of position on defense, the poor execution in critical moments, the special teams’ blunders that ultimately sounded the death knell. This Kentucky team has no margin for error.
We really shouldn’t be too surprised that a season starting out with so much promise has suddenly morphed into Rosemary’s Baby. Remember it is 2020. As the game was winding down, my colleague Michael Bennett texted me, “I feel like I’m at a visitation.”
With Kentucky 0 – 2, the atmosphere does feel a bit funereal. And with Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Georgia on the immediate docket, an 0 – 5 Nightmare on Elm certainly isn’t impossible to imagine. But remember also that there are still eight games left to play and a cat does have nine lives.
Maybe it’s time for a quick visit to the Pet Cemetery. I’m still game…are you?