Ole Miss shakes off slow start to pound Louisiana-Monroe

Published 5:18 pm Saturday, November 18, 2023

OXFORD (AP) — After struggling in the first half, Jaxson Dart and No. 13 Ole Miss put away Louisiana-Monroe.

Dart threw for three touchdowns on three consecutive third-quarter series as the Rebels used a strong second half to win 35-3 on Saturday.

“I was super frustrated. We weren’t playing good at all,” Dart said. “But a lot of guys spoke up in the dressing room and I’m happy with how we fixed it in the second half.”

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Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC, No. 13 CFP) struggled to a 7-3 halftime lead over the Sun Belt Conference Warhawks (2-9, 0-8) before Dart capped consecutive touchdown drives of 78, 60 and 60 yards to build a 28-3 cushion.

“I was not pleased with the start,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “I was very surprised we came out like that. Flat. The players were challenged at halftime to reset, bring their own energy and I was pleased with 21-0 in the third quarter.”

Dart finished 24-of-31 passing for 310 yards, including touchdown passes of 13, 2 and 58 yards to Tre Harris, Caden Prieskorn and Dayton Wade, respectively. Wade finished with seven receptions for 108 yards as nine different Rebels caught a pass.

The Rebels had 498 yards of total offense, highlighted by 215 yards in the third quarter outburst. Ulysses Bentley added a first quarter 14-yard touchdown run, while Quinshon Judkins had 18 rushes for 65 yards.

Spencer Sanders, relieving Dart for the fourth quarter, threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Caden Lee. The Rebels finished with no turnovers and added an interception by Daijahn Anthony.

Louisiana-Monroe capped a solid early performance with a 26-yard field goal from Braxton Guilbeau on the final play in the first half. The Warhawks finished with 258 total yards, led by Hunter Smith with 17 rushes for 74 yards.

The absence of Ole Miss offensive tackles Micah Pettus and Jayden Williams, sidelined by ankle and lower body injuries, respectively, was noticeable. The Rebels used different personnel combinations, but the drop in consistency was unsettling as Louisiana-Monroe had 11 tackles for loss. Pettus is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season.

“We think Jaden will be back, but it’s challenging any time you lose two tackles,” Kiffin said. “I can’t give you a perfect assessment until later, but for right now, the offensive line is working to meet that challenge and they’re doing OK.”

The Rebels wrap up the regular season with a visit to Mississippi State for the 120th Egg Bowl on Thursday night. A victory would secure a 10-win season and possibly a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl.

“It would be huge regardless, but it’s extra big with what we want to do,” Kiffin said. “We lost there last year and we want to bring it (Golden Egg) back here.”