For all of his reputation of being the coordinator of a forward-thinking, explosive offense, Lane Kiffin’s true strength as a playcaller is that he adapts to his people... And when your team gives you one of the best running backs in the SEC and a great rushing QB, you RUN the ball.
Last year, Ole Miss had 614 rushing attempts to only 387 passes while Quinshon Judkins went on to look like the best running back in the SEC with 1567 yards and 16 TDs.
Well, in 2023, the Rebels return their QB, Jaxson Dart, as well as Judkins. And while they lost their #2RB Zach Evans to the NFL, former SMU standout Ulysses Bentley IV has been extremely explosive as the new #2 back (6.3 yards per carry so far).
On the receiving end, the Rebs top two pass catchers from last year, Malik Heath and Jonathan Mingo, have moved on to the NFL. So far, Jordan Watkins, last year’s #3 receiver, has picked up most of the slack. Watkins is the primary guy to motion around behind the formation on jets and even line up in the backfield at times. He’s slippery after the catch, and he has 290 yards through three games.
Dayton Wade is next with 11 catches for 215 yards, and then transfer Tre Harris has 5 touchdowns and 188 yards on only 8 catches. The Louisiana Tech transfer was an All-CUSA first team player in 2021 and 2022 and has been a Biletnikoff award finalist the last two seasons. In his debut with Ole Miss, he caught 6 passes for four TDs against Mercer. He did miss the Georgia Tech game with injury though, and may still be out this week against Alabama.
Back to the two stars of the offense, though. Jaxson Dart was a highly regarded QB prospect out of Utah who signed with USC and played 6 games for the Trojans before transferring to Ole Miss before 2022. Last year, he completed 62% of his passes at a solid 8.2 yards per attempt and threw 20 TDs to 11 interception. Decent enough stats, but his rushing contributions (614 yards) were one of the main components of the offense.
So far in 2023, Dart has been extremely efficient, averaging an (unsustainable) 12.5 yards per attempt with 7 TDs and 1 interception, plus he leads the team with 213 rushing yards already.
And as great as Dart has been, he’s needed to be, because Ole Miss’s regular rushing game has been a bit of a disaster. Judkins, who was possibly the best running back in the SEC last year, has 145 rushing yards on 44 attempts. Just 3.3 yards per carry... Against Mercer, Tulane, and Georgia Tech.
Now, granted, he was injured leading up to the GT game last week and wound up playing anyway, but it’s still been an underwhelming start for the dynamic back.
Now, how will Alabama defend the Kiffin offense this year? In 2020, Kiffin racked up nearly 50 points against the Tide, but in 2021, Pete Golding’s gameplan nearly shut down the Rebels. Last year was also a fairly low scoring affair, but they did rush for nearly 200 yards on the Alabama defense.
According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, Alabama is favored by 7 points with an O/U of 55.5 - about a 31-24 win for the Tide.
Yesterday, I expressed my doubts about the Alabama offense until they prove otherwise, but I think 24 points is a pretty good guess for the Ole Miss score. On one hand, Alabama’s really only struggled with two things on defense this year: A few deep shots from Texas and some 3rd down scrambles from USF. Ole Miss definitely has the running QB aspect of this that can get some yards on Alabama’s defense, but do you trust Dart and these receivers to do what Xavier Worthy did on the deep ball? I’m not sure I do.
On the other hand, Alabama’s inside linebacker play with Deontae Lawson, Trezman Marshall, and Jihaad Campbell has looked faster, stronger, and much more explosive than we’ve seen from the last 4 years of Alabama defenses, and they should be able to dominate an already sputtering Ole Miss run game.
So I think the Rebels will get some drives that annoyingly extend due to QB runs and they’ll score a few times, but the Tide definitely holds them under 30.
The game will be broadcast on CBS as the primetime SEC game at 2:30 p.m. Central Time. It’s mostly considered a 50/50 shot across the internet as far as picks to win, despite the betting folks favoring the Tide by 7.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.