Ole Miss vs. Mercer Preview and Predictions: Rebels host the Bears in season opener
OXFORD, Miss. — Football is officially back and Ole Miss fans can soon return to doing what they do best, cheering on the Rebels! On Saturday, the Grove will be filled and the Vaught will find itself painted white as another Ole Miss season is ready to kick-off.
Head coach Lane Kiffin has reloaded following an 8-5 campaign last year and is ready to take a new defensive look into the year with a new man at the helm of the unit. Expectations are high with defensive coordinator Pete Golding coming over from Alabama, and the offense looks to return to its high-octane ways with a plethora of playmakers at Charlie Weis, Jr.’s disposal.
There still remain questions, most notably about an unannounced starter at the quarterback position. Regardless of whether Jaxson Dart or Spencer Sanders takes the first snap, Ole Miss looks poised to carry on in the right direction. The Lane Train will keep on movin’ as Mercer heads to town for an FCS opening matchup.
As The Rebel Walk has done for a few now, we have put together a panel of members to make score predictions for each individual game. This year adds a twist where the panelists are also asked to throw a game prediction out to show new perspectives. This year’s group includes:
- Kickoff: Saturday, Sep. 2nd, 1:00 PM CT
- TV: ESPN+
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines at Kickoff:
- Ole Miss: At kickoff, Ole Miss -33.5
- O/U: 57.5
- Ole Miss Moneyline: -10000
- Mercer Moneyline: +2800
Fellow Rebel Walk writer Steve Barnes recently previewed Mercer in his article, so if you are looking for more information on the Bears go check it out for more details.
Mercer enters the game 1-0 on the season after taking down North Alabama, 17-7, in its first game. The group is highlighted by returning nine of eleven All-SoCon players from last year’s squad that finished 7-4.
Last year’s group amassed 38.2 points per contest but the Bears are having to replace their quarterback. Carter Peevy has gotten the nod as a fourth-year sophomore and is expected to lead the veteran offensive group. Two Mercer Bears wide receivers were named to the Reese’s Senior bowl watchlist in Devron Harper and Ty James. The duo are considered FCS All-America talents and together put amassed 130 catches, 2,092 yards, and 23 touchdowns. James at 6-foot-2 is a physical-bodied receiver, while Harper is a smaller, shiftier player who is also a threat in the return game.
Defensively, the Bears bring back experience and production at all three levels. Five of the nine returning All-SoCon guys are on defense headlined by linebacker Isaac Dowling and a pair of guys on the defensive line in EDGE Solomon Zubairu and defensive tackle Chris Hill.
Ole Miss Keys to the Game
Offense: Ole Miss WRs vs Mercer DBs
After last year’s Central Arkansas game, it took a lot for me not to highlight Zubairu here on the edge, but I had to realize that David Walker is a legit NFL guy at UCA. Instead, let’s focus in on a more interesting group. Mercer has a pair of taller CBs in TJ Moore (6-foot-1) and Cam Simms (6-foot-2). Ole Miss will zone in on finding what guys are going to stand out in game and doing so against a couple of taller corners could make for some fun in the passing game.
Defense: Seeing the Defense make the play
Pete Golding signals the shift to a 4-2-5. This means a lot of variety in coverages and potential gap schemes. It also means that this group will look to force turnovers and make pressure plays. We could talk about Mercer’s two NFL hopefuls at WR, but instead the focus should be on a dictating performance from Ole Miss defensively. Keep an eye on Golding’s defense making the correct reads and finishing tackles.
Ole Miss 48, Mercer 14
Prediction: Tight ends on display
In Lane Kiffin’s first season in Oxford, we saw what he could do with an ‘everyday’ tight end in Kenny Yeboah. This year he’ll have at least two on the field at most times. Although Memphis transfer Caden Prieskorn is out with a minor injury that could withhold him from Saturday’s game, look for him to be back soon. Kyirin Heath and true freshman Jayvontay Conner have both had strong fall camps and could be waiting in the wings behind Prieskorn — or perhaps beside him? Michael Trigg, as everyone knows, is a physical freak of nature and if he gets it all together, could be dangerous as well.
Bonus Prediction: Mercer rushes under 100 yds
The run defense in recent years at Ole Miss has struggled, falling down in both SEC and national rankings. With a new system in place and a tough early slate, the Landshark defense has a chance to make a statement right away.
Ole Miss 45, Mercer 3
Prediction: Jamious Griffin shines
By the time the game ends, Oregon State transfer running back Jam Griffin will have amassed more rushing yards than All-American Quinshon Judkins. Similarly to the emergence of Judkins against Troy to begin last season, the Rebels will see a viable weapon in the making in Griffin.
Ole Miss 52, Mercer 13
Prediction: Welcome, Monty Montgomery
The offense will name its score, but it will be linebacker Monty Montgomery’s coming-out party with the defense announcing its arrival in the new system. Mercer will only find the board with an early fluke score and a pair of late field goals against the walk-ons.
Ole Miss 59, Mercer 12
Prediction: I think Ole Miss beats the brakes off Mercer, but make no mistake about it — it’s a big game. Hot take, there still won’t be a clear leader in the starting quarterback race between Jaxson Dart and Spencer Sanders. If it comes down to it, my “x-factor” is Zamari Walton since Mercer has a couple of really good receivers.
Ole Miss 54, Mercer 17
Prediction: Tre Harris emerges
A lot has been in question as Ole Miss has to replace valuable production in the receiver room. Jonathan Mingo and Malik Heath are off to the NFL, but no worries Rebel fans, the WR room is in a great place. With all the depth and hype surrounding the receivers, its natural to question who will be the main target getter for whoever gets the nod/majority of snaps at quarterback.
One player immediately stands out with his production from last season, and that’s newcomer Tre Harris. He feels like a guy that can make himself feel known on Saturday. A contested catch monster at La Tech last year, Harris should be schemed into situations where he can find himself open more and can continue to build off his good camp.
TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.