5 reasons Ole Miss wins the Egg Bowl
Ole Miss has a chance to get to .500 for the first time since Week 2 if it can topple in-state rival Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon.
This Egg Bowl features first-year head coaches who will bring a different energy to a rivalry that has gotten bizarrely toxic in the last half decade, only amplified by the game being the sport’s stand-alone event on Thanksgiving night the last 3 years. Both programs are in similar but yet different places, trying to find their footing and identity under their respective newly-minted coaching staffs.
If Ole Miss is to win Saturday, these will be the primary reasons.
1. Matt Corral and Elijah Moore
If you need evidence for Lane Kiffin’s SEC Coach of the Year case, look no further than what he has done with Corral. Once considered an afterthought in a rudderless program, Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby have unlocked the arm talent and untapped potential that made Corral such an enticing prospect coming out of high school. Corral has thrown for 1,025 yards with 10 touchdowns and no turnovers in his last 8 quarters of football. Outside of a dreadful performance at Arkansas, he’s put together a season worthy of Heisman consideration.
His favorite target is Moore, who leads the SEC with 74 catches for 1,054 yards and has 8 TD receptions. Moore obviously has plenty of reasons to put last year’s game behind him, too.
Mississippi State played with 49 scholarship players last week and is particularly thin on the defensive side. If Ole Miss wins on Saturday, it is because Corral threw for a lot of yards and the offense scored a lot of points, as they have in most all of their seven games this season.
2. Mike Leach’s stubbornness
Mike Leach does what he does. It’s hard to argue against the Air Raid given his 2-decade long resume. Mississippi State may very well move the ball consistently through the air; actually, the Bulldogs better if they wish to keep pace in this game. But the most consistent way to defeat what has been a horrific Ole Miss defense this season is consistently running between the tackles and tacking advantage of a weak interior defensive line. Leach averages 16 rushes per game this season. He’d be wise to nearly double that Saturday. Ole Miss allows 243 yards per game on the ground — staggering number that ranks last in the SEC by nearly 50 yards — and while the Rebels’ pass defense has been far from great, it has improved significantly more than their run defense.
Will Leach stick to his guns and throw the football 55-65 times or will he try to find success on the ground? Kylin Hill’s opt-out doesn’t help this cause, but it will be fascinating to see how much if any Leach adjusts his game plan to attack Ole Miss’ most glaring weakness.
3. Zero turnovers
Mississippi State’s path to a win would likely include multiple turnovers from the Ole Miss offense. The Rebels have 12 turnovers this season, 7 of which game in 1 game (a loss to Arkansas). They’ve taken care of the ball in their last 3 games and if they play a turnover-free game, it is hard to envision Mississippi State getting enough stops to remain in this game.
4. Pass rush
Ole Miss’ secondary would have better numbers if the Rebels could generate a consistent pass rush. They’ve failed to do that for most of the season outside of a few brief stretches in a game or two. Their ability, or inability, to get to the quarterback is perhaps more vital to their success in this game than any other. Mississippi State’s offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback this season and it’s disrupted their scheme greatly. This will be fixed via recruiting and personnel upfront that better fits Leach’s unique style, but for now, there is not much reason to believe it will be better in this game.
Can Ole Miss get to Will Rogers? Bulldogs quarterbacks have been sacked 21 times in 7 games. If the Rebels can notch 2 or 3, plus add 7 or 8 hurries, their chances to thwart Rogers the offense will increase exponentially, particularly given their hesitancy to consistently run the football.
5. Superior scheme
The only thing that has kept Kiffin and Lebby from sleepwalking to 30 points against all 7 opponents is a barrage of turnovers from Corral, and it’s happened once. There’s a world in which Ole Miss wakes up Sunday with a 4-4 record despite its defense allowing 40 points per game. It’s remarkable the consistency this offense has maintained through 7 games. The Rebels have found a way to score on everyone. If the same is true against the Bulldogs, it feels like a long shot that Leach’s offense as it is currently constructed will be able to counter enough times to keep this close.