Ok, this will sound weird, but: college football is a drug. If you take seven months off without a fix, then freebase four quarters of pure, uncut NCAA gridiron football, the highs will be too high, the lows will be too low, and you might end up lying in a gutter somewhere when all is said and done. Case in point: Ole Miss jumped out to a 21-point lead today, then came crashing down to Earth, with Troy “winning” the rest of the game 10-3. Sentiments were wayyyy up, then wayyyy down, and it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from what we just saw.
So… what did we just see? In its season opener against Troy, Ole Miss dominated for exactly 2.1 quarters, running the ball mostly at will, playing stifling defense, and then… some other stuff happened. Jaxson Dart won the starting nod, and showed some promise at times, but never connected on a deep ball in 4-5 attempts, threw an ugly interception, and never got totally settled.
After an up and down first half, Dart led a very competent touchdown drive at the opening of the third quarter, capped by a touchdown pass to Malik Heath. On the next Ole Miss possession, Zach Evans, who showed out tremendously in the first half, coughs up the ball on a seemingly routine play. Miles Battle gets the ball right back with an opportunistic pick, then Dart telegraphs a pass directly to a safety in the endzone for an interception.
Later, Luke Altmeyer comes in to relieve Dart, and center Caleb Warren immediately poops the ball onto the turf for another turnover. The Ole Miss defense surrenders a touchdown on a long drive on a 4th and goal play where defensive backs were flummoxed by a three-receiver cluster, leaving a man wide open. A second Altmeyer possession led to a punt, Troy milked some clock before turning it over on downs, and just like that, the game was over. It seems unfair to draw too many conclusions from this game, but here are some quick positives and negatives:
- The Ole Miss running game is for real; Zach Evans and Quinshon Judkins both look elite, and Ulysses Bentley scored an impressive touchdown after appearing to be wrapped up; he rolled over the top of his tackler and bounced back up before darting into the end zone.
- The defense has a lot of playmakers, and played disciplined team defense for most of the game. Linebackers Khari Coleman and Troy Brown both had big games, with Coleman living in Troy’s backfield, and Brown shedding blocks and bottling up running plays effectively. JJ Pegues looked disruptive, and a deep rotation of safeties all stepped up to make plays.
- There were times where Jaxson Dart took what was in front of him and moved the offense. He was pretty effective scrambling, and threw a few nice passes.
- A lot of talented new players stepped onto the field today, and will continue to emerge as the season bears on. The sheer number of newcomers can explain a lot of the negatives we saw, and they have three more games until SEC play opens to sort things out.
- It’s hard to argue that Ole Miss didn’t totally lose focus in the second half. There was a lot of ugly football in all facets of the game, and frustration mounted.
- Jaxson Dart did very little to cement himself as the starting quarterback. Lane Kiffin apparently announced prior to today’s game that Altmeyer will start against Central Arkansas. Honestly, it wouldn’t take much on Altmeyer’s part to draw out the QB battle a while longer.
- Kiffin and co. were not able to refocus the team after things went sideways in the third quarter.
Now that we’ve learned our lesson about the dangers of overdosing on early season college football games (lol, we definitely haven’t), let’s have a big glass of water, detox for a few days, and get ready to jump to some more conclusions in a week!