First look: three takeaways from Ole Miss’s season-opening win over Troy

Published 7:52 pm Saturday, September 3, 2022

After a tumultuous offseason full of turnover within the roster and the coaching staff, Ole Miss fans had plenty of questions regarding this year’s Rebels squad and how they would fare compared to last year’s record-breaking unit that finished their season with the 10th Sugar Bowl berth in program history.

There are still many questions left unanswered, but the picture is beginning to come into focus following a 28-10 win over Troy on Saturday.

Here are three quick (over)reactions to the Rebels’ season-opening victory:

The rushing attack is one of the best in the country

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Ole Miss rushed for 2,829 yards last season, but this year’s team may put even more gaudy numbers.

TCU transfer Zach Evans looked as good as advertised in week one—rushing for 130 yards on 20 carries.

The junior tailback ran all over the Trojans, and is poised for a massive season in Lane Kiffin’s running back-friendly offense after averaging over seven yards per carry across two seasons with the Horned Frogs.

He’s not the only star in the backfield however.

True freshman Quinshon Judkins announced his presence in a major way against the Trojans as he racked up 87 yards and a touchdown on 14 attempts in his first-ever collegiate game.

The Pike Road, Alabama native looked like he was shot out of a cannon on every carry—showcasing a deadly combination of speed and power.

“I asked Q[uinshon] if he was just angry at the whole state of Alabama or something because he ran angry today. He’s a special, special freshman,” Kiffin said when asked about Judkins’s performance.

The talented young back certainly has the tools to be an elite running back in the SEC, but he may not put up the numbers to prove it this year in a loaded backfield that also features SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV and junior Kentrel Bullock.

The defense is deep and talented

Ole Miss restocked the cupboard on both sides of the ball this offseason, but they put a specific emphasis on adding defensive players willing to throw their bodies around and lower devastating hits.

This year’s unit features a plethora of talent at every position group—headlined by a secondary full of hard-hitting playmakers.

Safeties A.J. Finley, Tysheem Johnson, Ladarius Tennison and Isheem Young all made big plays for the Rebels on defense—swarming to the ballcarrier with impressive speed and aggression.

Cornerbacks Deantre Prince, Davison Igbinosun, Markevious Brown and Miles Battle also played well against the Trojans as they combined for 13 tackles, one interception and one pass broken up.

The linebackers room also features plenty of talent—headlined by transfers Troy Brown and Khari Coleman.

The pair combined for 19 tackles against the Trojans—shutting down their running game by getting into the backfield and disrupting plays before they could develop.

Coleman was especially prolific at finding ballcarriers behind the line of scrimmage as he became just the third Ole Miss player since 1999 to register five tackles for loss in a single game.

With Austin Keys and Ashanti Cistrunk providing high-quality depth, the Rebels have more than enough talent at linebacker in their 3-2-6 defense.

“I thought our linebackers, which were the biggest question outside of the quarterback on our team, played really well today—which was awesome to see,” said Kiffin.

The Rebels also boast a deep defensive line unit that features a number of versatile players capable of playing multiple positions.

Defensive ends Cedric Johnson, Tavius Robinson and Jared Ivey were adept against both the run and the pass on Saturday, while nose tackles K.D. Hill, Isiah Iton and Tywone Malone excelled at eating up blocks and allowing reinforcements to shut down running plays quickly.

Auburn transfer and Oxford native J.J. Pegues also showed flashes of brilliance in the victory—making perhaps the play of the game defensively when he blew up Troy quarterback Gunnar Watson on a sack early in the fourth quarter.

Seventeen different players recorded a tackle for the Rebels against the Trojans as they rotated through different personnel groupings on nearly every drive to great success.

While that number may shrink come SEC play, expect to see plenty of different bodies on the field throughout the season.

Jaxson Dart is talented, but he’s definitely no Matt Corral

The USC transfer played well in his first start in an Ole Miss uniform, but his performance left much to be desired given the lofty preseason expectations.

The dual-threat quarterback completed 18 of his 27 attempts for 154 yards and a touchdown, but failed to locate the deep ball effectively.

He also struggled to make the correct read on a few option plays—either handing the ball off with an open receiver streaking down the field or forcing balls into traffic when his back had room around the edge.

“I thought he was doing well until the last two series. The interception—we did three hitches in the red zone and that is exactly what he knows has been his issue—it’s not speeding things up and understanding the timing of our passing game,” Kiffin said.

Ole Miss fans knew Matt Corral would be a difficult act to follow, but the offense may take even longer to come around than previously expected unless Dart or Luke Altmyer make a substantial jump in the coming weeks.

The Rebels will be back in action next Saturday when they host Central Arkansas at 6 p.m. at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.