Ole Miss crushes Mercer 73-7

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OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss football opened its 2023 season with a 73-7 blowout win over Mercer at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The 22nd-ranked Rebels (1-0) set a new single-game passing record with 524 yards through the air against the Bears (1-1), breaking the previous record of 517 against ULM in 2018, in addition to putting up the sixth-best offensive performance in program history at 667 total yards. Ole Miss’ 73 points scored were the highest total in the Lane Kiffinera and tied for the seventh-best in program history.

Senior wide receiver Tre Harris became the first Rebel to catch four touchdowns in a game and only the 12th to ever haul in three. He also became just the 22nd player in SEC history with at least four receiving touchdowns in a game. Harris ended the day with 133 yards on six total catches, and combined with Jordan Watkins (111 yards) to give starting quarterback Jaxson Dart a one-two punch en route to a 334 yard season-opening performance on an 18-of-23 line.

Jaxson Dart
Jaxson Dart: Photo by Evan Farrell

Freshman Suntarine Perkins led Ole Miss with nine total tackles in his first collegiate game, including four solo tackles. Zxavian Harris matched Perkins with four solo tackles of his own to set a new career-high en route to six total tackles. The Ole Miss defense did not allow Mercer to enter the red zone at any point during Saturday’s game.

It only took 51 seconds for Lane Kiffin‘s offense to get all 60,097 fans inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on their feet. Dart marched the Rebels downfield, needing only three plays to find the endzone, connecting with Harris on a 38-yard strike. It was the fastest scoring drive to open a season for Ole Miss since 2018.

After a quick answer from Mercer, Dart and Harris linked up for two more scores, giving the senior wideout three touchdowns in the first 3:15 of the game. Ole Miss’ special teams unit forced their first fumble of the season just before Harris’ third score, recovering the loose ball on a kickoff at the Mercer 20-yard line.

Ole Miss continued to assert its offensive dominance on their next drive, as Preseason All-American Quinshon Judkins waltzed in for six to put the Rebels up 28-7 and mark the most points scored in an opening quarter of a season dating back to 1967.

Mercer began the second quarter driving into Ole Miss territory before penalties backed them up into a 3rd-and-35. The Rebel defense took advantage of the situation and brought the house, forcing a fumble on the snap that was recovered by Reginald Hughesand cashing in on the turnover with a 31-yard field goal by Caden Davis.

After forcing Mercer into another punt, the Rebels drove back down the field with a heavy dose of Judkins. With just 32 seconds left in the half, Judkins would take a direct snap at the Mercer 3-yard line and run it in for his second score of the day and 18th of his career. Ole Miss went into halftime with a 38-7 lead.

Dart threw for a first half career-high 296 yards and three touchdowns, with all three scores going to Harris on 95 yards through the air. Judkins rushed for 61 yards and two touchdowns in the opening 30 minutes.

Ole Miss put up 28 points in the third quarter, beginning with a Jordan Watkins 70-yard punt return touchdown at the end of Mercer’s first drive of the half. The return was not only the first punt return touchdown of Watkins’ career, but it was also the first punt return for a touchdown by a Rebel since Jeff Scott did so in 2013 against Texas.

Daijahn Anthony grabbed his first interception as a Rebel on the next drive, picking off Carter Peevy at midfield and returning the ball for 19 yards. Three plays later Dart would throw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to Harris, tying his career-high previously set during his freshman season at USC.

Spencer Sanders made his Ole Miss debut on the Rebels’ next drive and threw for his first two touchdowns in a Rebel uniform on back-to-back drives. He connected on a six-yard pass to Ulysses Bentley IV for his first and 34-yard pass to freshman Cayden Lee for his second one, putting the Rebels up 66-7 heading into the final quarter.

Sanders would end up throwing for 134 yards and two touchdowns in his Rebel debut, giving Ole Miss two 100-yard passers for the first time since the 2019 Egg Bowl (Matt Corral & John Rhys Plumlee).

Walker Howard entered the game at quarterback in the fourth quarter to make his Rebel debut as well. Howard and Matt Jones teamed up for a touchdown drive, with Howard connecting on deep passes of 29 and 16 yards to move down the field. Jones would cap off the drive with his second career touchdown, scoring from one yard out.

The Rebels will head to New Orleans next weekend for a matchup with the Tulane Green Wave, set for 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2.