Just Peachy! Ole Miss clobbers Penn State for Peach Bowl victory

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, December 30, 2023

ATLANTA (AP) — Lane Kiffin wants Ole Miss’ dominant win over Penn State to be seen as just the start of more success to come for his Rebels.

Jaxson Dart passed for 379 yards and three touchdowns, including two to tight end Caden Prieskorn, and ran for a score as No. 11 Ole Miss bullied No. 10 Penn State’s proud defense 38-25 in the Peach Bowl on Saturday.

The victory gave Ole Miss the first 11-win season in the program’s 129-year history.

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“I really do believe we’re just getting started,” Kiffin said. “I think that we’re doing something. We’re on our way to something really special.”

Ole Miss (11-2) gained 540 yards against Penn State (10-3), which led the nation with its average of 223 yards allowed. It was the most yards and points allowed by the Nittany Lions this season.

Tre Harris caught seven passes for 134 yards. Running back Quinshon Judkins had 34 carries for 106 rushing yards and added a 14-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

“Too many moving parts, staff and players, to have the type of success that we wanted to have today,” said Penn State coach James Franklin, referring to the combination of players opting out to prepare for the NFL draft and recent changes to his offensive and defensive coordinators.

Prieskorn had 10 receptions — an Ole Miss bowl record — for 136 yards. He added a 2-point conversion catch to his touchdown receptions of 6 and 37 yards and was named the game’s offensive MVP. The 2-point conversion was only the second ever for Ole Miss in a bowl game, with the other coming in the 2000 Music City Bowl.

The dominant performance by Prieskorn was a surprise. He had 20 catches, including two for touchdowns, for 313 yards in the regular season.

“I’ve got to thank my coaches, Coach Weiss and Coach Kiffin, for trusting me. And just the whole O-line, just blocking. I’ve just got to thank my teammates for just trusting me.”

Each team used tight ends in prominent roles. Prieskorn’s 6-yard touchdown catch gave Ole Miss a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter. Penn State pulled even on Drew Allar’s 2-yard scoring pass to tight end Theo Johnson on a fourth-down play early in the second.

Prieskorn’s second scoring catch, a 37-yarder, gave Ole Miss a 20-10 lead. The Penn State defense bought in on Dart’s fake pitch to Judkins, leaving Prieskorn open on the right sideline.

Kiffin said he had to check after the game to make sure some of his players including Prieskorn, who have promised to return next season, would stick with their pledge after their success in the bowl game.

Kiffin joked that Prieskorn agreed to return for his final year of eligibility in 2024 only if he would be featured in the Peach Bowl.

“He said ‘Coach, I’ll come back, but you’ve got to make sure I’ve got 10 catches in the Peach Bowl,’” Kiffin said with a smile.

The Rebels led 20-17 at halftime and then scored the first 18 points of the second half. Before the bowl game, the Nittany Lions had outscored opponents 115-3 in the third quarter.

“Just in studying and game planning, didn’t really feel in that conference they had played much tempo. Obviously that’s part of what we do,” Kiffin said. “So we made some plays, and we were able to get into some tempo situations where they weren’t aligned, and took advantage of that.”

Each team had top defensive ends, Cedric Johnson for Ole Miss and Chop Robinson for Penn State, opt out to prepare for the draft. The Nittany Lions also were missing their usual starting cornerbacks, Johnny Dixon and Kalen King.

Franklin said the absences on his defense wound up playing a big part in the outcome.

“When you watch their game plan, they went after some guys that had not played a lot for us this year,” Franklin said.

Said Kiffin: “They pay us a lot of money as coaches, so I would think we wouldn’t be really good coaches if we didn’t realize that and obviously go in and attack where they’re missing guys.”

Dart visited the injury tent following the Rebels’ first possession and had his left ankle taped on the sideline. He remained in the game and added a 2-yard scoring run for a 38-17 lead in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss chanted “S-E-C! S-E-C!” as it celebrated the Southeastern Conference’s win in the matchup against the Big Ten’s Nittany Lions.

Kiffin called it his favorite moment of the season.

“This would be my favorite moment from the season because it’s the pinnacle of everything coming together. Previously it would have been that LSU ending and that game,” Kiffin said. “But to do it on this stage when both teams have a month to prepare and you don’t have a homefield advantage. You’re not playing at home, so there’s none of that. You’re playing in a neutral site. This would be the best part of the year.”