OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Jaxson Dart threw four touchdown passes, including three to Tre Harris in the opening four minutes as No. 22 Mississippi rolled to a 73-7 rout of Mercer on Saturday.
“I felt we were really prepared coming in,” Dart said. “I really like our confidence and being able to execute what was called.”
Ole Miss (1-0) opened with four consecutive touchdown drives and built a 38-7 halftime lead. Dart was 11 of 11 for 237 yards in the early surge and finished 18 of 23 passing for 334 yards before yielding to Oklahoma State transfer Spencer Sanders midway through the third quarter.
“It was a really good start for Jaxson. A lot of good things today,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “And for Tre Harris, that’s pretty amazing and especially to do it that fast. He only got in about a quarter and a half.”
Harris, a transfer from Louisiana Tech after earning All-Conference USA honors last season, had touchdown receptions of 38, 28 and 20 yards on the early scoring drives.
“We’ve had a lot of really great receivers come out of here,” Kiffin said. “I’m proud for Tre, but I’m also proud of how all three phases of the game came together. I commend this team for really playing well.”
Harris added a 16-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter to break a school record for TD receptions in a single game.
“I didn’t realize about setting the touchdown catch record until I looked up and saw we had those first-quarter touchdowns,” Harris said. “It’s been unbelievable for me since I’ve come here. I’m really happy.”
Quinshon Judkins had touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards and finished with 60 yards on 13 carries. Jordan Watkins added a 69-yard punt return for a score. Sanders was 8 of 14 for 134 yards and two touchdowns as the Rebels finished with 667 yards of total offense.
Mercer (1-1), ranked No. 22 in the AFCA poll of FCS schools, scored on its first offensive snap, a 75-yard run by quarterback Carter Peevy. The Bears finished with 237 yards of total offense, including 138 from Peevy on 16 of 29 passing, but never seriously threatened again.
“We got kicked in the gut today, obviously,” Mercer coach Drew Cronic said. “They’re really good on offense. One of the best in college football. But we will look hard for small victories and we had some of those.”
Kiffin was communicating with new defensive coordinator Pete Golding before Mercer’s first snap. And 12 seconds later, Peevy had his long TD run for the Bears.
Not happy with the play, Kiffin said he told Golding: “You do know we paid a lot of money to get you here, don’t you?"
Kiffin then added, tongue in cheek: “After that, we did a good job of shutting them down. Maybe my comment worked.”
Mercer: Southern Conference teams are not expected to win on the road against SEC teams. ... Devron Harper made a handful of impressive plays at running back, wide receiver and kick returner, including a 40-yard punt return. ... Linebacker Marques Thomas had seven tackles. ... There are no more SEC teams on Mercer's schedule.
“I believe in our kids,” Cronic said. “We will accept this and our players will go right back to work. We had guys that played tough all day.”
Ole Miss: Seamless and impressive. Despite a sizable influx of transfers, a new defensive coordinator and two kickers swapping duties on kickoffs, extra points and field goals, the Rebels dominated their home opener. Kiffin’s reputation for transfer portal success was enhanced by the record-breaking performance from Harris and an acrobatic interception by Liberty transfer safety Daijahn Anthony.
The No. 22 Rebels are the fifth-highest ranked of six SEC teams in the Top 25 poll. Despite the lopsided win, a significant surge in the poll would be surprising.
Mercer: After consecutive road games, the Bears host fellow FCS Morehead State on Sept. 9.
Ole Miss: The No. 22 Rebels visit No. 24 Tulane on Sept. 9 in an early non-conference headliner.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll