The Egg Bowl, one of college football's most overlooked rivalries, with be chock full of intrigue on Thanksgiving night. Dan Mullen is looking to avoid his first losing season since his rookie year in Starkville and a win over Ole Miss would get the Bulldogs bowl eligible, while Hugh Freeze is looking for his second consecutive win in the bitter rivalry. The Rebels saw their four-game winning streak come to an end after a 24-10 loss against Missouri, which saw them squander several promising scoring opportunities. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs rallied behind their third-string quarterback and snatched an overtime victory from a hungry Arkansas team. If the Rebels lose, both teams will finish with a 3-5 conference record with a tiebreaker going to the Bulldogs should they win. In essence, whatever team wins this game will finish higher in the SEC West standings than their in-state rival.
This is the 110th overall meeting between the two schools, separated by just 98 miles of Mississippi highway. The Rebels own a 59-44-6 edge in the overall series. Ole Miss won 41-24 last year; however, the Bulldogs claimed the Golden Egg each of the three years prior.
Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State
Kickoff: 7:30 ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -3
Mississippi’s Key to Victory: Red Zone Offense
In last week’s loss against Missouri, the Rebels let several goal line opportunities slip through their fingers. On three trips inside the 20, Ole Miss came away with just a single field goal. The Rebels have struggled all season in the red zone, ranking 88th in the nation. While they come away with points 79 percent of the time, they've only had 22 of their 38 trips result in touchdowns. The other sixteen trips are split evenly between field goals and failed red zone conversions. The numbers say that the Rebels have 12 rushing touchdowns in the red zone. What they don't say is that nine of those came in the first three weeks of the season. Since that time, Ole Miss has just three rushing touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line over an eight-game span. Part of the problem could be the Rebels' insistence on switching between Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace, as Brunetti's lack of rapport with his center caused a false start last week. Additionally, the Rebels lack a true red zone threat at tailback as Jeff Scott, Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers don't have the size to run inside at the goal line. Brunetti has been the Rebels' closest thing to a goal line runner as all four of his rushing touchdown have come inside the five-yard line. Jaylen Walton has seen the majority of goal line carries over the last five weeks, with three red zone scores. This would be the perfect week to get those issues cleared up as the Bulldogs rank 106th in red zone defense. Mississippi State has only stopped opponents in the red zone four times in 35 attempts.
Mississippi State’s Key to Victory: Make QB Damian Williams Comfortable
The Bulldogs are glad to be at home, especially considering their situation at quarterback. Mississippi State has seen its top two quarterbacks succumb to injury. Dak Prescott will not play due to a nerve injury has not healed as quickly as hoped, while Tyler Russell will not be listed on the depth chart due to a shoulder injury. The task of winning the Egg Bowl comes down to a freshman quarterback, who has attempted just 27 passes this year. His career numbers aren't great, completing 14 of 27 balls for 186 yards and an interception. To be fair, Williams did win the game for the Bulldogs last week with his 25-yard scamper to clinch a 24-17 overtime victory over Arkansas. The Bulldogs need to keep the young quarterback upright and make him feel comfortable early. Expect lots of quick, short routes to get Williams in a rhythm. Senior RB LaDarius Perkins, currently listed as questionable with a head injury, would be a huge addition if he's in the lineup. Mullen hopes to set up bigger passing lanes for Williams by looking for a second-consecutive 100-yard game from HB Josh Robinson. If Williams gets rattled in the first quarter and Ole Miss builds an early lead, it will be difficult for the offensively challenged Bulldogs to dig themselves out of such a hole.
Key Player: Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Wallace has been locked in a frustrating time-share with Barry Brunetti, spending part of the third quarter of last week's game buried in a winter coat and hat on the sidelines. The Rebels are at their best when Wallace is in a groove. In their biggest wins of the season, Wallace has been a major factor. He accounted for three touchdowns against Texas, two scores against Vanderbilt and the senior signal caller threw for 346 yards in the Rebels' win over LSU.
In the Egg Bowl, anything can happen. Records and standings should be thrown out for a game like this. While I expect a close game, Mississippi State has been too scarred with injuries for me to think that they can legitimately pull the upset. Ole Miss has played close with several quality teams like Auburn, Missouri and Texas A&M. Mississippi State barely beat a woeful Arkansas team. Simply put, the Rebels are the more explosive team and match up very well against the Bulldogs. Look for the Rebels to make turkeys of their in-state rivals in this Thanksgiving Day affair.
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, Mississippi 14