Ole Miss football: 3 takeaways from Rebels' 42-0 shutout of Georgia Tech
Things could not have gone much better for Ole Miss on either side of the ball in Saturday’s 42-0 road shutout of Georgia Tech.
Whether or not that says more about how abysmal the Yellow Jackets are on offense or how they couldn’t find an answer defensively, or if the 16th-ranked Rebels (3-0) really have it all figured out remains to be seen when Ole Miss opens SEC play against Kentucky on Oct. 1 after it takes on Tulsa this Saturday.
Regardless, the Rebels had a lot to be positive about, as the defense recorded a season-high 7 sacks with a promising pass rush, and the offense seemed to be clicking at a higher level.
Here are some takeaways as the Rebels recorded their first shutout since 2014:
1. Best running back tandem in the country?
There were some who thought Ole Miss could have one of the best if not the best backfield in the nation this season. The Rebels’ running backs room is proving them right to this point, and that shined through as the team put up 316 yards on the ground on Saturday. Zach Evans and Quinshon Judkins powered past the Yellow Jackets defensive line with ease, as Evans amassed 134 rushing yards with 2 touchdowns on 18 carries and Judkins neared the century mark, racking up 98 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
Running back Ulysses Bentley IV didn’t come anywhere near those totals but was responsible for the other 2 scores, as all of the Rebels’ touchdowns came on the ground. Depending on how things continue to develop at quarterback, we could expect to see Ole Miss power its way through the schedule largely on the ground this season. And if these players keep rolling the way they have been in the running game, quarterback play isn’t going to be as glaring of an issue even if it does take Jaxson Dart some time to take another step.
2. But about quarterback …
It would be nothing short of surprising to see anyone other than Dart start at quarterback for the rest of the season. The battle went on for quite a while after the departure of Matt Corral to the NFL but seems to have concluded. Luke Altmyer might have spent a longer time at Ole Miss than Dart, but Dart projects to have more upside and pro potential. While he’s shown some decision-making issues that he’s continuing to clean up, what he’s shown through the air and how much he uses his legs help make him look like the better option the way things stand right now.
Dart completed 10-of-16 passes for 207 yards with 0 passing touchdowns and 1 interception, adding 40 yards on the ground. While the stat line might not look amazing in some areas, it’s important to note that especially in this contest Ole Miss didn’t have to throw the ball unless it absolutely wanted to and that if it had been a different situation in which the Rebels did choose to toss it around more, perhaps that line could look a bit better in Dart’s favor. But anyone who knows football knows that the numbers don’t tell the entire story — the film does. And that showed Dart improving as a pure passer with the ability to bounce back from his mistakes (the single interception) and get back on the right track.
While he could still improve in these areas, he seemed to be getting the ball out faster and improved on throwing with touch.
“That was really important,” head coach Lane Kiffin said after the game. “He’s still young, so they’re going to make mistakes. I want them to play great, and I was obviously really on them because that was exactly what we had talked about not doing the previous series. That was disappointing, but it was great to see him come back. … All coaches say take a (butt)-chewing and regroup. He did a really good job and played really well in the second half and threw the ball with really good timing.”
3. Improved offensive line play
What any offensive success comes down to, regardless of the team or the scheme, is solid offensive line play. As the men up front go so do the skill-position players.
Up to this point, the Rebels had shown overall solid run-blocking but struggled at times with pass-blocking — something that seems to be progressively getting better and is especially important with a quarterback who has still only played a small sample size of games and is coming into his own.
As for the running game, as mentioned previously, this has been an area the offensive line has been exceptional in this season. But it was that much better in that area on Saturday, as the final stats reflect.
Between all of this, it seems like things are starting to come together in a big way for the Rebels and that it will be onward and upward as the schedule toughens up.