After knocking off No. 7 Kentucky at home, Ole Miss is off to its first 5-0 start since 2014. For the most part, this team is exactly what we expected it to be.
The offense has been run-heavy, with quarterback Jaxson Dart showing flashes of greatness, along with some mistakes due to inexperience. The defense has shown surprising cohesiveness despite featuring multiple starters from the transfer portal.
The “Landsharks” have forced nine turnovers and allowed just 11.8 points per game. The defensive line, in particular, has been outstanding, recording 16 sacks so far.
Can Ole Miss keep the momentum going through the hardest stretch of the schedule? Let’s take a look at three areas the Rebels need to improve on to make that happen:
Building Dart’s Confidence
For the first five games, the Ole Miss offense has looked good in the first half. Then things inexplicably cool down.
There has been speculation that head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. are waiting until later in the season to really open up the playbook, but this doesn’t explain the lackluster second half against Kentucky.
The Rebels scored just three points in the second half. If they were waiting for bigger competition to get creative, Saturday was the time.
We have not seen Ole Miss utilize many high-percentage passes this season. Screens, slants, and quick outs are a great way to get the quarterback in rhythm and build confidence. Dart’s strength at USC was by far his deep ball, but he has been largely inaccurate in this area so far.
Part of the struggle can be contributed to running the first two downs. We’ve seen numerous occasions where the Rebels don’t pick up the first down on the first two handoffs, then Dart is forced to throw on obvious passing downs. Utilizing screens and taking shots downfield on 2nd-and-short can definitely improve the passing game.
Running to the Outside
Quinshon Judkins has been phenomenal so far. The true freshman has already ran for 535 yards and six touchdowns. The picture of Kiffin sitting alone in the cold to watch him play in high school makes all the sense in the world now.
He spotted a severely-underrated prospect, and those in Oxford are so glad he did. While Judkins has thrived running it straight up the middle, both backs could really benefit from running the ball off tackle.
Watch Zach Evans’ highlights from TCU and most of his big plays came from running the stretch, screen, and even the option. He has great hands and can make just about anyone miss in open space. It would be nice to see the talented running backs utilized in more creative ways.
Special Teams Consistency
Jonathan Cruz nailed a 53-yard field goal on Saturday, which proved to be the deciding factor in the 22-19 win. On the other hand, the Rebels’ kickoff team did nearly give up two touchdowns, and the field goal unit had an attempt blocked earlier this season.
The kickoff blunders were due to coverage men simply not staying in their lanes and missing tackles. With the next seven games coming against SEC opponents with talented returners, this area needs cleaned up. That needs to start on Saturday against Vanderbilt.
After five games, there is much to be excited about with this Ole Miss team. The defense is extremely hard hitting and capable of creating takeaways. The mistakes on both sides of the ball have been few and far between.
We’ve seen flashes of what Dart is capable of becoming. If he starts connecting on those deep balls, watch out.
The Rebels could make some serious noise in the SEC this year.
Featured image courtesy of Ole Miss athletics