Jaxson Dart is in his second season at Ole Miss. And while he’s had bright moments, he’s been a bit inconsistent. That is, until Ole Miss’ 48-24 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday. In the victory over the Yellow Jackets, Dart virtually single-handedly willed the Rebels to the win.
The 6-2, 215-pound junior dual-threat quarterback from Kaysville, Utah originally started his college career with the USC Trojans. However, following his freshman season in Los Angeles, he decided he needed a change. This could partially be due to last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams announcing that off-season that he was transferring to USC. Whatever the reason, Dart found his way to Oxford to play for Lane Kiffin.
Most Ole Miss fans aren’t upset about his decision.
Jaxson Dart’s First Season At Ole Miss
Dart’s first year in Oxford ended up being a bit of a topsy-turvy ride. Early in the season, he wasn’t asked to do all that much. Not many passes thrown, not all that many yards. He wasn’t even asked to run the ball all that much, despite being a threat on the ground, as well. This was likely due to his inexperience within the Kiffin offensive system.
By the middle of the season, he started to see his usage rate increase. This came with him throwing 30+ passes in six of the Rebels’ last eight games. On top of the increase in passes, he had double-digit carries in each of the team’s last seven games.
But the increase in usage didn’t always equal success. His completion percentage remained reasonably solid, but certainly not great. On the year, he completed 62.4% of his passes. He also threw too many interceptions, with 11 picks for the season.
Following a 7-0 start to the season, the Rebels only finished 8-5, including a Texas Bowl loss to Texas Tech. While the struggles to end the year didn’t fall solely on Dart, as the quarterback, he does hold a fair share of the blame.
Immediately following his first year at Ole Miss, it was all but guaranteed that Dart would be the starter for this season as well. Then things started happening through the transfer portal. It started when LSU backup quarterback Walker Howard transferred to Ole Miss. A day later, Oklahoma State starting quarterback Spencer Sanders announced he was headed to Oxford, as well.
This created an immensely crowded quarterback room. With the competition going on throughout Spring and Summer practice, no one knew who the starter was going to be. This uncertainty continued all the way into Fall camp.
In fact, there were many people who expected Sanders to get the nod, even well into Fall camp. Then, shortly before the season opener against Mercer, Kiffin announced that Dart would be the starter, at least for the time being.
Dart Starts His Second Season in Oxford
Given the opportunity to start his junior year as well, Dart seemed poised to make the most of it. He certainly had to, given the quarterback competition. In the opener, he completed 18 of 23 passes, throwing for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns. A really good start to the season, but against FCS Mercer, no one batted an eye.
Then, in Week 2, Ole Miss traveled to New Orleans for a ranked matchup against Tulane. An ugly first half saw the Rebels trailing 17-10 at halftime. But a solid second half, including Dart playing well, got Ole Miss a comeback win. In the victory, Dart threw for 267 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
However, despite the strong second half, and despite the win, for a lot of people, the somewhat ugly performance took up many of the headlines. Against a non-Power 5 school, Ole Miss was supposed to take care of business in a convincing way. They didn’t do that. For that reason, no one really received any praise for the performance.
Ole Miss Avoids Being Stung by Yellow Jackets, Led by Dart
Following the unconvincing victory over Tulane, Ole Miss got another chance this past week against Georgia Tech. Dart was ready. Despite the win, there was still plenty of criticism to be shared about the team’s overall performance.
However, Dart was outstanding. Through the air, he completed 10 of 15 passes, for 251 yards and a touchdown. But the bigger story was his rushing performance. To go along with the 15 passes, he carried the ball 14 times. On those carries, he put up 136 yards, with an average of 9.7 yards per carry. He also scored two touchdowns on the ground.
The extremely efficient performance arguably couldn’t have come at a better time for the Rebels. With Ole Miss getting set to travel to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama this weekend, you would want your starting quarterback to have plenty of momentum and confidence. After all, it’s a huge game for Kiffin and company.
Following his second half versus Tulane, and an outstanding performance against Georgia Tech, it’s hard to imagine Dart’s confidence could be much higher. While there’s no guarantee it’ll make a difference, it certainly can’t hurt matters.
We’ll all get the chance to see on Saturday.
Photo courtesy: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports