All eyes in the Magnolia State will be trained on Oxford, Thursday evening for the 115th meeting between Ole Miss and No. 21 Mississippi State. The Rebels and Bulldogs first played in Starkville in 1901, and Mississippi State earned a 17-0 win.
Mississippi State closed out its home slate of games last week with a resounding 52-6 victory over Arkansas, its largest margin of victory in the series. At 7-4 overall and 3-4 in SEC play, the Bulldogs are primed for their ninth consecutive trip to the postseason. After last year’s 31-28 Ole Miss Egg Bowl victory, Mississippi State’s seniors would enjoy nothing more than to repay the favor at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Last week’s Ole Miss-Vanderbilt contest ended with a bit of controversy after receiver A.J. Brown’s apparent go-ahead touchdown catch in overtime was overturned by officials. The Rebels went on to lose the game, extending their losing streak to four games. Nineteen Ole Miss seniors will look to close their college careers in front of a home crowd against the nationally ranked Bulldogs.
Ole Miss owns a 64-44-6 series advantage.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Mississippi State -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mississippi State’s defense
Mississippi State entered the season with lofty expectations on defense, and the unit has lived up to the hype — more specifically, the Bulldogs' run defense. Through 11 games, Mississippi State is allowing just 110.4 yards rushing to opposing teams, ranking the Bulldogs No. 13 nationally in rushing defense. Even more impressive is the fact that the Bulldogs have surrendered just seven rushing touchdowns.
Mississippi State's pass defense is stout as well. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for a 97.73 passer rating, the third lowest in FBS. Mississippi State has yielded three only passing scores, five rushing scores and 14 field goals to opponents in the red zone.
The Bulldogs have held opponents under 14 points on eight occasions, which leads the nation.
2. Ole Miss QB Jordan Ta’amu and WR A.J. Brown
Ta’amu and Brown have been dynamic, and both are on the verge of breaking even more records. Ta’amu needs just 212 yards passing to surpass Chad Kelly’s single-season school record. Two catches for Brown will cement him as the Rebels’ single-season reception leader, pushing him past Laquon Treadwell.
Only Washington State’s Gardner Minshew, coincidentally a Mississippi native, boasts more yards passing than Ta’amu this season. Ta’amu has thrown for 3,831 yards and 19 touchdowns against seven interceptions. He threw for a season-high 457 yards last week against Vanderbilt, and he’s averaging 348.2 passing yards per game (No. 2 in FBS).
Brown, meanwhile, ranks fifth nationally in receiving yards with 1,259. Brown became the Rebels’ all-time receiving yardage leader on Nov. 10. Brown has tallied seven 100-yard receiving games this year, and in last week’s Vanderbilt loss, he erupted for a season-high 212 yards and one touchdown.
3. Fitzgerald’s revenge
When Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald went down with a fractured ankle in last year’s Egg Bowl, so did the Bulldogs’ chances of winning that contest. After taking the offseason and the first game of the year off to recover, Fitzgerald is clearly back. And it's safe to say he’s beyond ready for his final Egg Bowl.
Fitzgerald ran into the SEC record book as the conference’s all-time leading rusher at quarterback earlier this season, replacing Tim Tebow. The senior has rushed for 3,387 yards during his college career. Fitzgerald brings a team-leading 1,088 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and 1,504 yards passing and 14 touchdowns into Thursday’s in-state showdown.
Few things in Mississippi evoke as much passion as the Egg Bowl, and first-year Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead will receive a spirited introduction to the longstanding rivalry.
Mississippi State put on a clinic against Arkansas last week after being held scoreless just one week earlier at Alabama. Fitzgerald would love nothing more than to exact revenge and close out the regular season with a decisive win against the Rebels. The Mississippi State defense will get a strong test from the Ole Miss passing game, but the unit has consistently been among nation’s best against the pass all season.
For Ole Miss, this is essentially its bowl game. The environment of senior night should also galvanize the Rebel players. Ole Miss’ offense has thrived this year, but its defense has often been porous. Offense only, however, isn’t going to be enough to dispatch the Bulldogs. Mississippi State should earn its eighth win of the season by the end of the night.
Prediction: Mississippi State 35, Ole Miss 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.