Mississippi quarterback Jaxson Dart (2) dives for a touchdown past Georgia Tech defensive back Ahmari Harvey (18) during the first half an NCAA college football game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)
The Ole Miss Rebels defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 48-23 to remain undefeated as they head into Tuscaloosa for showdown with Alabama Crimson Tide.
Jaxson Dart put together a complete game on Saturday night in Oxford. The USC transfer in his second year under center for the Rebels carried the team both through the air and on the ground. Dart passed for 251 yards and a touchdown, adding another 136 yards and two touchdowns rushing in the Rebels 48-23 win.
The game started slowly for both the Rebels and the Yellow Jackets. At the end of the first half, Ole Miss led Georgia Tech only 10-3. In the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, the Rebels poured it on, running up 38 points to finish the game.
The contest was arguably closer than the score lets on. Georgia Tech had a field goal blocked early and chose to go for touchdowns on fourth down twice near the goal line. Late in the game, failed fourth down conversions by the Yellow Jackets also put the Rebels in position for short touchdown drives.
Lane Kiffin’s squad tacked on fourteen points off these changes in possession in the final four minutes of the game. In total, Pete Golding’s Ole Miss defense gave up 474 yards to Georgia Tech. Part of Ole Miss’s slow start on Saturday came down to the fact that the Rebels could not get Georgia Tech off the field. The Yellow Jackets time of possession eclipsed the Rebels at a 2 to 1 ratio.
Even so, through three games the Rebels are one of only two teams in the SEC West that are undefeated, with Hugh Freeze’s Auburn Tigers being the other. On the horizon next Saturday is an Alabama Crimson Tide team that looks pedestrian for the first time in a long time.
Tide Look Vulnerable
Coming off a tough loss the Texas Longhorns, Alabama looked to rebound in a cakewalk game against South Florida. South Florida won only four games combined over the last three seasons.
Las Vegas odds makers predicted the Tide would roll by 34.5 points. At the end of the first half, the game was tied 3-3. Alabama would add two touchdowns in the second half for a 17-3 win, but Nick Saban cannot possibly be pleased with his team’s performance to date.
The struggle on Saturday came from the quarterback position. Saban benched Jalen Milroe and gave the start to Notre Dame transfer Tyle Buchner. Buchner could not move the ball and gave way to Ty Simpson. While serviceable, Simpson did not light anyone’s fire.
The question then is whether Ole Miss can take advantage of this moment in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels have their own questions through three games.
Pete Golding, who served as Alabama’s defensive coordinator last year now helms the Rebels defense. It is one of the question marks early in the season, regularly giving up long, sustained drives and struggling to get off the field.
Can Judkins Return to Form?
Another big question mark for the Rebels in Quinshon Judkins. Judkins was a world beater in his freshman year. His stat line, which included over 1,500 yards in rushing and 15 touchdowns, drew favorable comparisons to the freshman year of Herschel Walker at Georgia.
In his sophomore campaign, Judkins has put up only 145 yards through three games and is averaging just over 3 yards per carry. It is unclear at this stage why the drop in productivity. On Saturday night, three other Rebels–Dart, SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley, and Jackson Prep freshman Matt Jones–all looked more explosive on the ground than Judkins.
One can only assume that SEC defenses will pose a tougher challenge than Mercer, Tulane and Georgia Tech have mounted.
For the Rebels to have a shot at conquering Mount Saban next weekend, they will need Dart to continue his progression, for their defense to take advantage of Alabama’s offensive down year and get Dart the ball, and for Judkins to show up.