The Matchup: Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3) at Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5)
When: Saturday, November 24th
Where: Oxford, MS
Game Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Skinny: A win for the Rebels would be a big-time turnaround from a two-win season to a six-win season and a bowl berth. A win for Mississippi State means the Bulldogs notch another nine-win season – perhaps meeting expectations – during the Dan Mullen era. A loss for MSU, and the entire season is a failure – plain and simple. Mullen has owned the Rebels (3-0 in as many years), and he looks to add another win, while Hugh Freeze’s fresh energy has the Rebels believing they will win this football game at home.
What you need to know about Miss State: We have learned over the last four weeks that MSU’s 7-0 start had everything to do with the weak schedule. It’s not that the Bulldogs are underrated or overrated, but they were a product of a weak schedule. It’s not a knock on MSU, their team or the players; however, back-to-back-to-back games against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU revealed that the Bulldogs are a solid team, but not a great team. The Bulldogs were not ready for stiffer competition. However, by beating the Rebels and completing a nine-win season, it’s a good season in Starkville – not great.
One player who has played very well has been quarterback Tyler Russell. Russell’s passing yardage might not be in the top three in the SEC, but he’s thrown 21 touchdowns compared to just four interceptions. He’s efficient and comfortable with his receivers, and it’s shown the entire season. He, along with receivers Chad Bumphis, Chris Smith and Arcedo Clark, will try and take advantage of the SEC’s 12th ranked pass defense in Ole Miss.
I thought the Bulldogs’ defense was somewhat underrated, particularly the secondary, for much of the season until they were exposed in their three losses. MSU’s 11th ranked rushing defense will need to take a step forward against a run-heavy but balanced Ole Miss offense. Stopping the run first will be a key for the Bulldogs’ front seven.
What you need to know about Ole Miss: Win or lose, the Rebels have surpassed expectations. A win Saturday would take a good season to a great season, especially becoming bowl eligible against that school down in Starkville, right?
Should Ole Miss already be bowl eligible? They should have beaten the Commodores, as they blew a 23-6 lead in the third quarter. However, they bounced back nicely against LSU last weekend and took it down to the final seconds.
Bo Wallace has had a good season – not great. He’s thrown for over 2,500 yards and has 22 combined touchdowns, to go along with his 13 interceptions. However, 13 picks are just too many, and he’ll have to play under control and limit his turnovers against a very greedy Bulldogs’ secondary that has tallied 14 interceptions of their own.
The Rebels’ secondary will have to bring their game against Tyler Russell and company. They have forced 12 interceptions on the season, and they’ll need to force a couple on Russell, who is normally very controlled and poised in the pocket.
Who has the edge: Count me as one who has had this game circled since about week four of this season, when both the Rebels and Bulldogs started off very strong with a combined record of 7-1. We knew the Bulldogs would be good with Dan Mullen at the helm, a veteran defense and a quarterback who could put up numbers, but it’s the Rebels who have outplayed their expectation to this point. From two wins last season to five heading into the final week, it’s true – and they should have already notched a bowl game berth but have been stuck on five wins for three weeks now. Nonetheless, it’s a marked turnaround, and they would like nothing more than to get that sixth win against their hated rivals.
On paper, MSU has an advantage, with a better record and better offensive and defensive numbers. But these two teams match up particularly well, and you can throw those stats out the window for a rivalry game.
The combination of LaDarius Perkins and Tyler Russell, along with the cast of receivers, gives the Bulldogs the upper hand. MSU has owned this series the last three years, and the last time MSU has won four straight Egg Bowls was back in 1939-‘42. However, the Rebels truly believe they can win this game. The one thing the Rebels have lacked the last few years? Belief. Freeze has the Rebels believing they can compete and beat anyone – just ask LSU.
So, while you may be snoozing on this football game, it will be must-watch TV for any SEC fan. Be sure and tune in Saturday night for the Battle of Mississippi.
Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE