OXFORD — Sophomore Jaxson Dart got his chance to make the first impression in Ole Miss’ 2022 quarterback derby. This weekend, it will be Starkville High School product Luke Altmyer’s turn.
Dart, the highly touted transfer from USC, was solid in his first start for the No. 21 Rebels (1-0) against Troy. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 154 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 40 yards on four carries, with the majority coming on a 36-yard scamper down the sideline.
Ole Miss took down the Trojans 28-10, but the offense sputtered in the second half, due in part to self-inflicted wounds. The Rebels turned the ball over three times — a Dart interception and a pair of fumbles.
Altmyer didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter and completed 1 of 2 passes for 13 yards. Because the competition between Dart and Altmyer was so close throughout camp, head coach Lane Kiffin said it was only fair to give each a chance to be the first quarterback on the field and, subsequently, come off the bench.
Altmyer will run the offense first Saturday against Central Arkansas.
“Like I’ve said before, we’d always like to have it figured out. This is not ideal,” Kiffin said. “Luke will go first in this game, so that gives both guys an opportunity to go first and see how he plays. He didn’t get as many opportunities as we would have liked. Obviously would have liked his series to go further. And Jaxson’s interception, (I) was going to switch after that series but, as you guys know, I take a lot into the psyche of the quarterback and didn’t want his last play to be an interception. So that ate up one of Luke’s series.”
Kiffin praised Dart’s movement in the pocket and his ability to escape pressure “even with average pass protection” but did say he made some mistakes, including the interception and a missed third-down throw because “his feet (were) screwed up.”
Kiffin also made sure to point out that Matt Corral — the seventh-place Heisman Trophy finisher in 2021 — was in his fourth collegiate season when he led Ole Miss to 10-regular season wins for the first time in program history. Young quarterbacks generally “go through growing pains,” Kiffin said, with rare exceptions.
Kiffin admitted he worries about the toll the current situation will have on the mental psyche of both quarterbacks but said it was necessary. He pointed to Altmyer’s first play against Troy, where the ball was snapped too early and turned into a turnover.
“I do. I mean, look at Luke’s play, because of the different voice tones … and they snapped the ball thinking it was his cadence,” Kiffin said. “So, you never want that. But you also want to make sure you find the best guy. So, this is what we think gives us the best chance longterm to win, to evaluate the situation to get the best player. And we still may be wrong after that. It happens all the time.”
Senior wide receiver Jonathan Mingo said that, from his perspective, the quarterback uncertainty doesn’t change things for him. That’s largely because Dart and Altmyer have been splitting first-team reps the entire time.
“It doesn’t change at all, because they’ve been going through ones and twos, they’ve been rotating … There’s nothing new,” Mingo said. “The job’s still the same for us, just get open, catch the ball. So, it doesn’t change it at all.”
Kiffin on CFP expansion
Last week, it was announced that the College Football Playoff would be expanding from a four-team field to 12 by 2026. In that format, Ole Miss would have made the playoff in 2021, ranking eighth in the CFP poll prior to the Sugar Bowl.
Kiffin was asked for his thoughts on expansion. He prefaced it by saying he wasn’t one to look too far ahead.
“My statement’s always been that’s better, because more people have an opportunity instead of people sitting in a room deciding these four — and they can’t be right, nothing against them. Otherwise in basketball, the No. 1 seeds would all (be) in the Final Four. So, I think it would go a long ways to determine the best team better.”
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