For the second straight season, Kentucky went 4-0 in the month of September. They did so without running back Chris Rodriguez. Coming in at 7th in the new AP poll, the Wildcats are headed towards a showdown against Ole Miss with two monsters in the backfield.
It’s tough enough for opposing teams to prepare for quarterback Will Levis, but with the return of one of the best running back’s in the country, the Cats look dangerous on offense. Getting past the first road test of the season two weeks ago in Gainesville was the first test, but doing it again in Oxford would continue turning heads.
This will also be the first time Mark Stoops has coached in Oxford. Stoops is currently 0-10 in SEC West road games, something he hopes changes on Saturday.
Difference Maker At Running Back
Chris Rodriguez missed the first four games of the 2022 season due to NCAA issues. And the explosive back sounds ready for his season debut. Last season he rushed for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021.
Quarterback Will Levis is anxious to have Rodriguez back.
“I am so excited, he’s excited to get back,” said Levis. “He’s been getting all the mental reps and understands the offense on a high level. He makes those players where you’re like ‘How did he turn that 1-yard run into a 10-yard run’, there’s not many guys that can do that.”
Levis continued: “We got such a deep running back room, it’s gonna be great to continue getting those other guys the ball as well,” Levis added. “But I know Chris is excited to get back and we’re excited to have him back.”
In Rodriguez’s absence, backup Kavoisey Smoke has been helpful, but his two fumbles this past weekend came at the wrong time. Smoke has rushed for 277 yards on the season, but the Cats could use more. So Rodriquez is returning at the perfect time.
Ole Miss Is 4-0 And Ranked 14th
The test this weekend against Ole Miss will be getting the most out of an offense that could take advantage of the Rebels potentially not having Khari Coleman. He’s dealing with an ankle injury. At the running back spot for Lane Kiffin is Zach Evans who’s dealing with a hip pointer.
Even before the return of Chris Rodriguez, this game was generating plenty of buzz. Both teams are ranked in the top-15 and compete in the SEC. The atmosphere for this one will certainly draw the kind of crowd that Lane Kiffin has been asking for over the last few weeks. Even though the early schedule hasn’t been fan friendly (they played Tulsa last weekend), the Rebels are expecting the fan base to create a hostile environment.
Kentucky On The Road
There’s one problem with this for Ole Miss: Kentucky has already won a night game in Gainesville. So I’d imagine an 11am local kickoff won’t be a cause for concern. This game presents Mark Stoops another opportunity to silence the doubters. That would seem a given should Stoops and the Wildcats snag a second win against a ranked opponent on the road.
But I come back to Chris Rodriguez, who will most certainly be foaming at the mouth for his opportunity to truck an Ole Miss defender. For the past few months Rodriguez has been the best backup running back in the country to not touch the field.
“He’s been taking reps, not many with the one’s, but with the two’s,” QB Will Levis said about Rodriguez. “He’s just been following the game plan and getting back into the rhythm of seeing things. Just the runs he has made against the defense, he’s had some awesome runs.
“We joked, he was in the two-huddle and we said ‘We have the best two-huddle running back in the country,” Levis added. “He’s got great vision, he see’s holes before they happen. We’re excited to have him back.”
Even though this Kentucky team is 4-0 on the season, the blue-collar mentality hasn’t wavered. They’re tough in the trenches, explosive at quarterback and now dangerous at running back. If there ever was a time that the Wildcats could bring the pain to an opposing defense, Saturday against Ole Miss presents that opportunity. The Rebels rank 48th nationally in rushing defense.
Ole Miss is giving up an average 119 yards per game on the ground.
Kentucky Has Rushed For Only 3 Touchdowns
Having Rodriguez back is not only beneficial for the offense, but the whole team will reap the rewards of having another leader on the field.
“He’s a difference maker, they just provide you something different,” OC Rich Scangarello pointed out. “I am excited to get him back, I think it will be a shot for everyone. He’s arguably as good as any back in the SEC.”
If Kentucky can run past Ole Miss this weekend, the schedule lines up for them to potentially be undefeated heading into the matchup with Tennessee. After Saturday, the Wildcats will host South Carolina and Mississippi State, before the showdown in Knoxville.
One game at a time, but Kentucky is heading to Oxford on a mission to run.