No. 14 Ole Miss survived a late charge from No. 7 Kentucky to secure a 22-19 win in Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday in what was a statement game for the Rebels and coach Lane Kiffin. Defensive end Jared Ivey came in off the left edge to strip Wildcats quarterback Will Levis one play after the potential go-ahead touchdown was called back due to an illegal shift. Tavius Robinson recovered it on the 12-yard line with 51 seconds left to keep his team undefeated and squarely in the thick of the College Football Playoff race.
The win capped off another stellar defensive performance for a Rebels team that used to play as if defense was a myth rather than something used to stop opposing offenses. The defense had nine tackles for loss, three sacks and limited the Kentucky offense to 2.9 yards per rush.
On the offensive side of the ball, the SEC's top rushing attack was held relatively in check, save for one key play from one of college football's budding superstars; freshman Quinshon Judkins rushed for 106 yards and broke off a 48-yard touchdown run right up the gut with 59 seconds left in the first quarter to put his team up 14-0 and trap the Wildcats in catchup mode for the rest of the afternoon.
The win is Kiffin's first over a top-10 team since Nov. 19, 2011 -- a 38-35 win over then-No. 4 Oregon in Eugene.
Let's take a deeper look into what we learned on Saturday as Ole Miss emerged victorious in this showdown between top-15 teams.
This is a complete Ole Miss team
The Rebels have had a hard time playing competent defense over the last few years, but things have changed this year under coordinator Chris Partridge. They came into the game second in the SEC in defensive yards per play at 4.24, and while Kentucky did average 5.4 yards per play, the Rebels held the Wildcats to just three rushes of 10 or more yards despite the return of star running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. following a four-game suspension to start the season.
Kiffin is an offensive genius. He has proven that time and time again during his coaching career, and this year is no different. Knowing that, all this defense has to be is adequate in order for the Rebels to contend for their second straight New Year's Six Bowl.
So what does it all mean moving forward? It means that Kiffin has built a legit division title contender that, luckily for the fourth-year Rebels coach, will meet No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide at home on Nov. 12 after the bye week. Look out. Kiffin with two weeks to draw up a creative game plan knowing that he has a defense that isn't a joke makes this a very dangerous squad.
Kiffin has mastered the transfer portal
The nickname "Transfer Portal King" has been attached to Kiffin and USC coach Lincoln Riley, and it was clear on Saturday that Kiffin deserves the moniker to his own ... at least for this week.
Ivey had 13 starts over two seasons at Georgia Tech. Quarterback Jaxson Dart, who threw for 213 yards and rushed for 40 more, was at USC last season. Malik Heath, who had six catches for 100 yards, played the previous two seasons under Mike Leach at rival Mississippi State. Tight end Michael Trigg, the second-leading receiver for the Rebs on the afternoon (three catches for 40 yards), was with Dart in Los Angeles a year ago. Zach Evans, Judkins' running mate in the dynamic backfield, was a former star high school prospect who moved two states east from TCU during the offseason.
Great coaches adapt, and Kiffin has certainly done that. He was at the forefront of the offensive renaissance when up-tempo, dynamic offenses began to dominate college football. He has transformed his team from a recruit-and-develop program to one that takes advantage of the new era of player movement.