The Egg Bowl is always one of the top rivalry games in the SEC, but there’s more at stake in 2014 for Mississippi State and Ole Miss than in recent memory. For the Rebels, the opportunity to play spoiler against their biggest rival is huge. However, coach Hugh Freeze’s team still has an outside shot at one of college football’s top bowl games if it knocks off Mississippi State, combined with losses by a few teams ahead in the rankings. For the Bulldogs, this is a must-win situation with a No. 4 ranking in the college football playoff headed into Week 14. And style points certainly wouldn’t hurt with Ohio State, TCU and Baylor all close behind Mississippi State.
Ole Miss has a 61-43-6 edge over Mississippi State in the all-time series rivalry. However, the recent trend in this series favors the Bulldogs. Mississippi State has won four out of the last five meetings against the Rebels, including a 17-10 thriller in Starkville last season.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Mississippi State -2.5
Ole Miss’ Key to Victory: Contain Dak Prescott
Containing Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott sounds easy, but only one team – Alabama – has been able to accomplish that in 2014. The junior was held to 82 yards on 22 rushing attempts against the Crimson Tide and completed 27 of 48 passes for 290 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Those numbers certainly aren’t awful for Prescott, but it’s important to remember 14 of Mississippi State’s points scored in that game were in the fourth quarter – after Alabama was ahead 19-3 at halftime. Stopping the run is the best way to slow down the Bulldogs’ offense. And it doesn’t just revolve around Prescott, as junior Josh Robinson leads the team with 1,084 yards and 11 scores. Ole Miss ranks sixth in the SEC against the run, but the Rebels have limited opponents to just 3.4 yards per carry and seven scores on the ground. This unit is giving up 4.4 yards per carry in its last three SEC games. Injuries and a brutal schedule have taken a toll on the Rebels’ defense in the second half of the year, but this unit limited a potent Arkansas’ ground attack to 3.2 yards per rush last week. Ole Miss has to find a way to limit Prescott and Robinson’s effectiveness on early downs, which will place the offense in third-and-long situations.
Mississippi State’s Key to Victory: Protect the Ball, Win the Turnover Battle
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is dealing with an ankle injury and was clearly less than 100 percent in last week’s game against Arkansas. Wallace has been inconsistent at times, as he completed 70 percent of his passes in a 35-31 loss to Auburn but tossed an interception and completed only 14 of 33 throws in a 10-7 loss against LSU. It’s no secret Wallace is the key to the Ole Miss offense, especially since Freeze’s team is trying to find a rushing attack. In last week’s defeat to the Razorbacks, the Rebels lost six turnovers. And for the first time all year, Ole Miss has recorded a negative turnover margin in back-to-back games. That’s a concern for Freeze as Mississippi State has recorded 21 takeaways this year and has five games of at least three takeaways in 2014. In addition to forcing turnovers, the Bulldogs have to do a better job of protecting the ball. In three out of Mississippi State’s seven SEC games, Mullen’s team has a negative turnover margin. Despite that mark, the Bulldogs are 2-1 in those games. In a rivalry game, Mississippi State cannot afford to let the underdog hang around due to a turnovers and sloppy play.
Rivalry games always bring out the best in the underdog, which is why Mississippi State should get a test from Ole Miss on Saturday. Sure, the Rebels have lost three out of their last four games, but this team still has talent and is capable of pulling off the upset at home. Freeze will have Ole Miss ready to play – there’s no doubt about that. However, Mississippi State has more to play for and is the better team in 2014. Prescott won’t have huge numbers against the Rebels, but he will find just enough running room and should connect on a few big plays in the passing game to give the Bulldogs a tight victory in Oxford.