Egg Bowl: 5 advantages Ole Miss has over rival Mississippi State
Ole Miss has the chance to complete its first 10-win regular season in program history if it can get past Mississippi State on Thursday night.
The Rebels are finally healthy on offense but slogged past Vanderbilt in an underwhelming 31-17 win on Senior Night. If there were ever a case for a trap game, perhaps it was that one. Ole Miss had just come off a physical and emotional win over Texas A&M. The players and this coaching staff obviously know what is at stake in the Egg Bowl and were possibly caught looking ahead.
Now, the finale has arrived. Let’s look at 5 areas in which Ole Miss has advantages over Mississippi State.
This gap has shrunk significantly over the last month and that is a credit to how well Will Rogers has played for the Bulldogs, but Ole Miss still has the better, more talented quarterback in this game.
And the Rebels are going to need Matt Corral to deliver a special performance in the final regular-season game of his college career if they hope to walk out of Starkville with a win.
Corral had a big day in last year’s Egg Bowl, throwing for 385 yards and 2 TDs in the Rebels’ 31-24 victory. Corral is trying to become the first Ole Miss quarterback since Eli Manning to win back-to-back Egg Bowl games.
Rogers, who threw for 440 yards and 3 TDs in last year’s game, has figured out how to run Mike Leach’s system, and the Bulldogs’ offense is clicking on all cylinders.
Still, there are seismic gaps between the QBs. Corral has superior arm strength and excels at fitting the football in tight windows. Corral is also a better runner and I think you will see Ole Miss utilize his feet more than it has in the past 5 weeks due to Corral being banged up with an ankle injury. Ole Miss needs to capitalize on its advantage here.
4. Pass rush
This isn’t necessarily a comparison of the teams’ pass rush, as Mississippi State’s defense has been pretty good all year. But Ole Miss has developed the ability to get pressure on quarterbacks without having to blitz thanks to Sam Williams and Cedric Williams turning into a formidable duo on the edge.
That is going to be key in this game in stopping Mississippi State’s offense. Rogers has torched opponents when they have dared to blitz but failed to get home. The Rebels are going to need big games from Williams and Johnson in this regard if they wish to neutralize an offense that has played as well as anyone in the country over the past 3 weeks. The Rebels’ defense went almost a half-decade without a real pass rush and they finally have one that they’ll rely on heavily on Thursday night.
3. Running backs
Ole Miss has one of the deepest running back rooms in the SEC with Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner. All 3 are going to need to be factors Thursday. We have seen what this offense looks like when it is running the ball well versus struggling to run, and the difference is stark.
For as great as Corral is and as explosive as this offense can be, the running game is the gas that fuels the car. The Rebels sorely miss center Ben Brown but ran the football well against Texas A&M with all 3 backs. They’ll need to find that rhythm again.
It won’t be easy. MSU is stout against the run, allowing just 93 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry.
2. Kicking game
As simple as it may sound, Mississippi State has had all kinds of issues at kicker since Brandon Ruiz got hurt. In a game that could be decided by a field goal, the Rebels having the dependable Caden Costa (14-for-17 on FGs) could prove to be a significant advantage. Missed field goals kill momentum and not having the option from a certain yardage late in games changes how you call plays. Ole Miss has an advantage at kicker that could come in handy.
1. The 3-2-6 should fit the Air Raid well
Mississippi State is going to gain yards and score points on Ole Miss. They did that last year against Ole Miss.
Their offense is playing too well for anyone to rationally think the Rebels will completely neutralize it, but having 6 defensive backs on the field is a pretty decent matchup against Mike Leach’s Air Raid scheme. The Rebels’ strength on defense is in the secondary, which is why they switched to this defensive look in the first place.
They’ve been good at tackling in space for the most part this year, which is crucial against a Leach offense. The secondary and the pass rush will be the two biggest components to Ole Miss slowing down the Bulldogs, and having a defensive scheme that matches up well with the offense’s scheme is a good place to start.