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‘The Head of the Snake’: Penn State Defense Faces Tall Order in Ole Miss QB Jaxson Dart

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 11: Ole Miss Rebels Quarterback Jaxson Dart (2) passes the ball during the college football game between the Ole Miss Rebels and the Georgia Bulldogs on November 11, 2023, at Sanford Stadium in Athens GA. (Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire)

ATLANTA— Penn State football has one of America’s best defenses, and in Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin’s opinion, there isn’t another defense that’s been as good as Penn State’s in 2023.

The unit that now-Duke head coach Manny Diaz led throughout the regular season doesn’t have anything left to prove to anybody, except maybe itself.

Even in Penn State’s two losses— to Ohio State and Michigan, respectively— the defense kept it in the game.

With all that said, Penn State doesn’t see many challenges like Ole Miss. The Rebels rank 15th in the country in total offense, which is ahead of any of Penn State’s 12 regular-season opponents, including Ohio State (No. 36) and Michigan (No. 68). At the center of it is quarterback Jaxon Dart. The 6-foot-2, 220 pounder put up solid numbers for Ole Miss in 2023. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Dart also completed more than 65 percent of his passes.

Dart’s finest hour of 2023 was probably against LSU.

In that game, he completed 26 of 39 passes for 389 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions leading Ole Miss to a wild 55-49 win.

Now, Penn State’s defense is better than LSU’s.

But Penn State coach James Franklin knows that Dart is good, and knows Penn State’s defense can’t afford to allow him to put up similar numbers that he did against LSU.

“We did face some really good quarterbacks this year that had some good passing attacks,” Franklin told reporters via Zoom Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously they’re unique in that style of how they play, but like they said earlier, we’ve just got to try to do what we’ve been doing all year, play the game in the style that we’ve been playing all year. Have fun with it. Our best against their best. That’s how we’ve been playing all season.

When talking with reporters Thursday, Penn State defensive end Adisa Isaac found a creative way to say that Drat is the leader of the Ole Miss offense.

“He’s the head of the snake,” Isaac said. “We’ve just got to contain him and try to limit the explosive plays that they do. The tempo is a factor, so they’re trying to run a lot of plays.”

“So kind of just being set, being ready for him. Trying not to be caught off guard, give him anything easy. Make him earn everything.”

While Isaac will be looking to cause damage from the EDGE, another Penn State fifth-year senior will be looking to do so from the middle of the defensive line.

“I believe it’s going to start up front,” Dvon Ellies said. “The best way to get to the quarterback is through the offensive line, and we really respect Ole Miss’ offensive line. So we’re going to do our best as a defensive line to operate at a much higher level a lot faster to keep up with an explosive, quick offense.

With Diaz now gone, Anthony Poindexter will be running the show for Penn State’s defense along with analyst Robb Smith.

For Poindexter, the key to stopping Ole Miss will be simply for Penn State’s defense to be Penn State’s defense.

“We did face some really good quarterbacks this year that had some good passing attacks,” Poindexter said. “Obviously they’re unique in that style of how they play, but like they said earlier, we’ve just got to try to do what we’ve been doing all year, play the game in the style that we’ve been playing all year. Have fun with it.
Our best against their best. That’s how we’ve been playing all season.”
ADISA ISAAC

 

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