OXFORD, Miss. (AP) After struggling in the first half, Jaxson Dart and No. 13 Mississippi put away Louisiana-Monroe.
Dart threw for three touchdowns on three consecutive third-quarter series as No. 13 Mississippi used a strong second half to defeat Louisiana-Monroe 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.”
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,
FIRST HALF MISFIRES
Hoping for a strong performance after losing at No. 1 Georgia last week, the Rebels offense was sluggish early. Ole Miss turned the ball over on downs, missed a field goal and Jordan Watkins dropped an uncontested pass well beyond the Louisiana-Monroe secondary.
TACKLE DUO SIDELINED
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.”
DART RETURN STATUS
Earlier in the week, Kiffin revealed Dart would return for his senior season at Ole Miss. In Saturday’s press conference, Kiffin walked it back.
“I probably shouldn’t have said that,” Kiffin said. “It’s not my position to say that.”
Dart smiled when asked about Kiffin’s clarification.
“I haven’t made a final decision yet. But, hey, coach was putting out those positive vibes.”
Louisiana-Monroe: The bad news is the current losing streak extends to nine games and historically, the Warhawks are 4-52-1 against 11 different SEC teams. The good news is Terry Bowden’s program will receive a hefty check for $1.6 million for this performance.
Mississippi: The Rebels cleaned up impressively after an ugly first half to maintain a solid resume. Ole Miss is in prime position for a New Year’s Six bowl appearance, a 10-win regular season and a Top 10 berth in the AP poll. A quick turnaround will be required for a Thanksgiving night visit to in-state rival Mississippi State with plenty at stake.
The Rebels have been consistently in the AP Top 25 poll rankings, beginning with a preseason slot at No. 22, advancing as high as No. 10.
This win should secure no worse than the current No. 13, with an opportunity to advance to the Top 10 before the final regular-season poll.
A closer evaluation lists Ole Miss as the fourth-highest ranked of six SEC teams in poll. Additionally, the Rebels are among five teams with two losses, including No. 10 Oregon State, No. 11 Missouri, No 12 Penn State and No. 14 Oklahoma.
Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks travel to Louisiana for the Sun Belt Conference finale for both teams on Saturday.
Mississippi: The No. 13 Rebels wrap up the regular season with a visit to Mississippi State for the 120th Egg Bowl on Thursday night.
“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.”
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