It was the offensive mastery of Head Coach Lane Kiffin and the talent of quarterback Matt Corral that largely propelled the Ole Miss Rebels to a historic 10-3 finish in 2021, marking their best finish since 2015 and just their third 10-win season since 1971.
Ole Miss moves forward in 2022 without Corral at the helm and left with a quarterback competition that will come down to USC sophomore transfer Jaxson Dart and Luke Altmyer. For however much the early days of spring practice are worth, Altmyer has looked slightly better, but it’s important to remember that Dart is still very much making a transition to a new system at a new place with entirely new teammates – outside of tight end Michael Trigg, who followed Dart to Oxford.
Both quarterbacks will be dealing with a slight change in an OIe Miss offense that will feature much of the same, despite the transition from Offensive Coordinator Jeff Lebby to Charlie Weis Jr. There’s not much reason to make a lot of tweaks to the scheme because of the success the offense had last year, and even with a new coordinator, Kiffin obviously plays a large role and has been heralded for being an offensive-minded coach.
"With Kiffin being the offensive mind that he is, he obviously has his own niche and how he wants to play ball,” Altmyer told reporters. “Weis is going to keep a lot of the same things we did last year because we were so productive.”
It was the dynamic and explosive offense and how Kiffin has put the program back on the radar that brought Dart to Mississippi.
“Seeing the production they had last year […] watching highlights when I was in the portal and then meeting with the coaches,” Dart said. “I loved how electric the offense is. It’s super quarterback friendly. I loved the excitement and everything that carries around with it. I loved how coach Kiffin has really turned some things around here and has brought it back to what it used to be.”
Looking at Altmyer, the last time he saw action in a game was in an up-and-down Sugar Bowl performance in which he showed some flashes but also had some mistakes. He says it still bothers him as a “perfectionist.” He finished the game 15-of-28 passing for 174 passing yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
One area of improvement both Altmyer and Dart will be focused on is turnover rate. Interceptions were an issue for Altmyer when he replaced an injured Corral against Baylor and were also an area of concern for Dart at USC as he posted a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 9:5 over six appearances last year.
"I think they're all doing [good things]," Kiffin told reporters. "We've got to take care of the ball better, especially when we push the ball downfield. There are too many interceptions. But this has been an exciting competition."
Both players have a level of athleticism to them and both have some strides to make as a pure passer, something that should be expected to develop with time, especially given how small the sample size is for both players.
There’s a reasonable argument that can be made for either quarterback at this point and it’s certainly a position battle that will continue through fall camp. For now, it is Altmyer who has a slight edge in terms of experience and comfort in the environment and Dart who may have the higher ceiling and already has a passing target he’s built a great amount of chemistry with. The former Southern California signal-caller was the more highly rated recruit of the two, has garnered some way-too-early Heisman hype, put up both more solid film and numbers than Altmyer and has shown more big-play potential, though being the same quarterback every play is something that’s a work in progress.
"Jaxson’s [probably] made more plays downfield, but he’s kind of made more mistakes too, kind of big-little, where Luke’s been more consistent,” Kiffin said.
Regardless of what happens, Altmyer is confident that whether it’s himself or Dart who ultimately gets the starting nod when the Rebels open their season against the Troy Trojans on Sept. 3, there’s a lot to be optimistic about at quarterback.
“What Matt (Corral) did last year was really cool and he thinks me and Jaxson (Dart) can do the same things.”