Ole Miss heads into the final game of the regular season with something to prove after suffering an embarrassing, 42-27 loss to Arkansas on Saturday night.

The Rebels (8-3, 4-3 SEC) cap things off with a rivalry game against visiting Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4), as the Bulldogs head to Oxford on Thanksgiving night.

While some weaknesses were exposed last week, here’s 5 reasons to believe the Rebels will come out on top this Thursday night before bowl season begins:

1. The power of standout RB Quinshon Judkins

Judkins has garnered Heisman Trophy attention this year and that’s for a reason. Ahead of the regular season finale, the freshman standout has carried the ball 229 times for 1,385 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in the midst of a record-breaking year. He’s crossed the century mark in 5 consecutive games, most recently putting up 214 rushing yards and 1 touchdown in the loss to the Razorbacks.

This week, he’ll face a No. 69-ranked Mississippi State rushing defense that’s giving up 149.5 rushing yards per game and has proven suspect at times but is also the same one that held Jahmyr Gibbs and Alabama to a meager total of 29 rushing yards in a 30-6 loss earlier this season.

The Ole Miss rushing attack ranks 1st in the SEC and 3rd in the nation with an average of 5.75 yards per rush and an average of 278.3 rushing yards per game, totaling 31 rushing touchdowns as a team this season.

2. Ole Miss finishes this one strong

Ending the final 2 quarters on a high note will be an area of importance as 2nd-half offense has not always been the Rebels’ forte. Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin was recently asked about this, and while it certainly has not been the theme of every game, there have been several in which the Rebels simply don’t roll as well in the final 2 quarters as they did in the 1st 2 ones.

Especially after how things went down in the loss to Arkansas (though that game was a bit of a fluke in regard to the 2nd-half offense trend), there’s reason to believe this could be a close game and it’s going to be important to keep things rolling through the entirety of the game — especially in the final minutes.

It’s easy to see by the numbers between first-half and second-half points scored that this has been a trend more often than not for the Rebels:

Troy at Ole Miss: 21 (1st half)-7 (2nd half)
Central Arkansas at Ole Miss: 31-28
Ole Miss at Georgia Tech: 21-21
Tulsa at Ole Miss: 35-0
Kentucky at Ole Miss: 19-3
Ole Miss at Vanderbilt: 17-35
Auburn at Ole Miss: 28-20
Ole Miss at LSU: 20-0
Ole Miss at Texas A&M: 10-21
Alabama at Ole Miss: 17-7
Ole Miss at Arkansas: 6-21

3. Mississippi State’s rate of inconsistency

The Bulldogs have had their moments, but it hasn’t exactly been a steady season.

Head coach Mike Leach has spoken to the need for his team to play consistently for the entirety of 60 minutes — something that was more of an issue last year and has still reared its head at certain points in 2022.

“Sometimes players need to understand the difference between being consistently good and occasionally great,” Leach said earlier this season. “The most valuable guy is the guy that’s consistently good, the guy you can count on every play.”

Here’s a look into how the Bulldogs have performed in terms of first-half and second-half points scored. It’s easy to see how sporadic things get, though there was a good bit of evenness at the beginning of the season that showed itself at some other points.

Mississippi State beat its own comeback record multiple times last season in huge second-half efforts that were out of necessity in a way that hasn’t been as dire in 2022, but still needs improvement.

Memphis at Mississippi State: 28-21
Mississippi State at Arizona: 18-21
Mississippi State at LSU: 13-3
Bowling Green at Mississippi State: 31-14
Texas A&M at Mississippi State: 14-28
Arkansas at Mississippi State: 21-19
Mississippi State at Kentucky: 3-14
Mississippi State at Alabama: 0-6
Auburn at Mississippi State: 24-9-6 (OT)
Georgia at Mississippi State: 12-7
ETSU at Mississippi State: 35-21

4. Homefield advantage and stopping the pass

While Vaught-Hemingway Stadium doesn’t have the reputation of an LSU, Penn State or something of the like when it comes to most pumped-up gamely environments, this is still one of the biggest rivalry games in college football and it helps to be playing in your own house even though MSU is only about a 2-hour drive away.

The Rebels will certainly need their fans to show up and show out as this game will be the deciding factor between which type of bowl game this team ends up in, as it seems the Rebels will likely miss out on a New Year’s 6 bowl narrowly after the loss to Arkansas.

Outside of this, the more important thing is going to be stopping the Air Raid offense. Leach’s system has hurt teams severely through the air at every stop he’s been at and lights up the scoreboard when it really gets rolling. The Rebels rank 53rd nationally in passing yards allowed per game with an average of 216.1 yards per game given up through the air. They’ll face the 9th-ranked Mississippi State passing offense that averages 321.2 yards through the air.

5. Clutch plays from the defense

Both of these teams have had their down moments defensively, and one could argue the Rebels have had more of those on this side of the ball as the offense has bailed the team out on multiple occasions. There is, after all, a reason Kiffin said that he didn’t feel like his team had a run defense within “8 miles” of the place after the Auburn game.

But just as Ole Miss has struggled with tackling and is a bit lackluster overall looking at the total defense rankings at No. 75 in the FBS, there have been sometimes where the defense has come up big. The most notable of which were the 2 fumbles Ole Miss forced and recovered in the final minutes of the 22-19 win over Kentucky. In a game that has the potential to be close, as a small point spread would imply, this could be a difference-maker.

While special teams’ performance is something to keep an eye on in games that are projected to be close, a key takeaway could also make all the difference. It’s just a matter of who comes out on the right side of that, as the Bulldogs also feature star cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, who set the FBS and SEC record for most career pick-6’s with 6 in the 56-7 rout of East Tennessee State on Saturday.