Ole Miss football: What the future looks like moving forward with Jaxson Dart
Ole Miss had one of the longest quarterback competitions in the nation, one that began after the departure of Matt Corral and ended after last Saturday’s Tulsa game with sophomore Jaxson Dart officially being named the starting quarterback following the 35-27 victory.
Head coach Lane Kiffin said after the game that there was a plan in place for Luke Altmyer and his family, but that he was officially the backup quarterback.
Dart completed 13 of 24 passes for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception, also going over the century mark with 116 rushing yards on 13 carries. Through 3 games this season, Dart has completed 62.2 percent of his passes and thrown for 697 yards, while adding 201 rushing yards on 29 carries.
He has shown some inconsistencies as a passer but has steadily improved in that area. It also helps his development that the Rebels have one of the best ground games in the nation, which currently ranks at the top of the SEC. Because of this, Ole Miss has only had to throw when it has wanted to. The 14th-ranked Rebels have rolled teams over in the rushing attack at will each week during their 4-0 start.
Decision-making is one area in which Dart has really seemed to take a step forward, cutting down on mistakes as the Rebels prepare to open SEC play against a tough slate of competition.
“I really like that we didn’t have the one disaster play (in nonconference action),” Kiffin said. “That’s growth, because he didn’t have that in previous games where there’s one significant play you want to take back, especially the two interceptions. That was really good to see. He managed (last Saturday’s) game well at the end … the situation of staying in bounds to end the game. We have such high standards at that position, I sometimes forget how young they are and inexperienced.”
Dart has struggled with some of the growing pains that younger signal-callers so often deal with, but that is to be expected.
“I just think he continued to improve,” said Kiffin. “He got out of some bad habits, which has nothing to do with where he was before. He’s a young quarterback and not that far away from playing high school. His growth in the last few weeks has been more than his growth in all the time here by far. That’s been really good to see. You see him playing a lot faster with speed and getting rid of the ball; he rarely ever gets sacked.”
There is a lot for Ole Miss fans to be excited about, with a quarterback who can develop into a true dual threat over time, who has already given defenses issues with his legs and has shown his ability to use them to evade pressure and extend plays. That’s something that is incredibly important when things break down and the pocket crumbles.
It’s going to take some time for Dart to reach the levels of a player like Corral, but Dart has shown some similarities to Corral that he can build off to help both himself and Ole Miss reach new heights. While it was a bit hasty, it’s important to remember that this is the same quarterback who was receiving Heisman Trophy dark horse attention ahead of the season.
It doesn’t seem likely he’ll work his way into serious discussion for the honor this season given how stacked this year’s group of signal-callers across the nation is. But it could be a possibility down the road if Dart stays on the trajectory he is currently on and ultimately hits his ceiling.
That’s something Kiffin realizes.
“Even this morning watching this Kentucky game from two years ago, that would be Matt (Corral’s) second game with us, even though he’s played for a while but with us it’s his second game … you see him make really good plays, but you see him miss some throws, miss some reads in the game, which didn’t happen as much last year. It’s a reminder that there is a reason experience is important,” Kiffin said.
This Saturday’s home game against 7th-ranked Kentucky is going to tell a lot about just where Dart truly stands and what areas he still needs a large amount of improvement in, after the Rebels had the opportunity to open the season against 4 nonconference opponents and steadily make tweaks against lesser competition each week.
Kentucky and Ole Miss will kick things off at noon Eastern time in Oxford. It will be interesting to see how many times Dart is asked to throw the ball and if Kentucky can be the first team this season to find an answer for the Ole Miss ground-and-pound attack that has propelled the Rebels to a perfect start.