After brutal start, Ole Miss defense 'settled down' in dominant win vs. Mercer

Sep. 2—OXFORD — After about as bad a start imaginable, the Ole Miss defense quickly found its composure Saturday in its 73-7 season-opening win against Mercer.

Bears quarterback Carter Peevy ran right up the middle for a 75-yard touchdown on the Rebels' first defensive possession of the game. Mercer had just 160 yards of offense the rest of the game, went 3 of 14 on third down and averaged 3.5 yards per play overall. Mercer did not run a play inside the Ole Miss 20-yard line during the game.

Freshman linebacker Suntarine Perkins led Ole Miss with nine total tackles. Perkins, sophomore Zxavian Harris, senior defensive end Cedric Johnson and junior defensive tackle Akelo Stone each finished with a sack.

"We settled down and played really well and did a number of things to kind of give them some issues," Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said.

"Controlling what I can control"

Junior quarterback Jaxson Dart was not publicly named starter leading into the Rebels' opener Saturday. Despite starting 12 games last season after transferring from USC, Dart found himself in yet another quarterback competition this offseason, battling Oklahoma State senior transfer Spencer Sanders for the starting job.

Dart started his second-straight season opener for the Rebels and excelled, hitting his first 11 passes and 18 of 23 overall for 334 yards and four touchdown passes, all to senior Louisiana Tech transfer Tre Harris. The four touchdown passes tied his career-high, which he logged with the Trojans.

The Rebels had 667 yards of offense against Mercer, including 524 through the air between Dart, Sanders and redshirt freshman Walker Howard. Dart and Sanders threw a combined six touchdowns.

Dart was asked whether it was frustrating still not being publicly named the starter, as Kiffin did not commit one way or the other to a starting quarterback going forward postgame.

"I think it kind of just comes back to just controlling what I can control," Dart said. "There may be times where I disagree with something here and there, but at the end of the day, he's the head coach and he makes the calls around here, and he's going to put us in the best chance to succeed, and I think that's really all you can really ask for as a player. So, I know that, going forward, I'm confident in my role, what is expected of me, and I'm going to do my job each and every week."

Key Number: -2

The number of first-half rushing yards Mercer had Saturday afternoon following a 75-yard touchdown run on its first offensive play of the game.

Next Game

The Rebels play at Tulane next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.


"Well, I said on the headset that, 'We paid a lot of money, Pete (Golding), for you, and that's not exactly what we're expecting.' So, that wasn't a real good start," Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said with a laugh. "But, they did tell me after that we only gave up 14 yards rushing. So, maybe my joke, he responded to." — Lane Kiffin

Rebel Ramblings

Ole Miss improves to 95-29-5 all-time in season openers, including 21 of the last 26 ... Johnson now has 14.5 sacks in his Rebels career ... The Rebels' 73 points were the most for Ole Miss since scoring 76 in 2018 (Southern Illinois) ... Harris is the 22nd SEC player to catch four touchdowns in a game ... Ole Miss' first punt did not come until the fourth quarter.