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Thanksgiving Day: Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State Football Prediction and Preview

Ole Miss Rebels vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Football Prediction and Preview

Second place in the SEC West is just one thing at stake in the 118th edition of the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night

All eyes will be on the Ole Miss Rebels and Mississippi State Bulldogs, who renew their football rivalry for the 118th time Thursday in Starkville. Lane Kiffin led the Rebels to a 31-24 win over Mike Leach's Mississippi State squad in Oxford last season to increase their all-time lead in the series to 63-48-6. State won 21-20 in 2019, which was both the last time the game was played at Davis Wade Stadium and on Thanksgiving Day. This year's contest will be the 26th Battle for the Golden Egg to kick off on Thanksgiving, and as the only college football game scheduled for the prime-time window, one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport will have a huge national audience.

Related: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Egg Bowl

Ole Miss beat Vanderbilt 31-17 last week to improve to 9-2 overall and 5-2 in SEC play. The Rebels, who have a chance to post double-digit victories for the first time since 2015, have won three consecutive games. The Bulldogs improved to 7-4 overall with a 55-10 victory over Tennessee State and beat Auburn 43-34 in come-from-behind fashion two weeks ago to improve to 4-3 in league play. State has won four of its last five games.

Besides in-state bragging rights, second place in the SEC West and bowl positioning are also on the line Starkville on Thanksgiving night to add even more intrigue to an already heated game.

Ole Miss at Mississippi State

Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Spread: Mississippi State -1

When Ole Miss Has the Ball

Quarterback Matt Corral has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,105 yards and 19 touchdowns with only three interceptions this season. Corral, who has already made it clear he will leave school to enter the 2022 NFL Draft, ranks third in the SEC in passing (282.3 ypg) and fourth in yards per pass attempt (9.0), both of which rank among the top 20 nationally. The Heisman Trophy contender also ranks in the top 20 of the SEC in rushing (50.2 ypg), having gained 552 yards with 10 touchdowns on the ground on a team-high 133 carries.

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Corral's rushing production has helped the Rebels gain 230.6 rushing yards per contest this season, which leads the conference and ranks sixth in the country. Running backs Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner, and Henry Parrish Jr. offer great depth and have been nearly interchangeable. Ealy leads the team with 643 rushing yards and has scored five times, while Conner leads with 11 touchdowns and ranks second with 556 yards. Parrish has gained 537 yards and scored eight times.

Corral has a long list of weapons — all of which are finally healthy at the same time. Top target Dontario Drummond leads the Rebels with 53 receptions, 786 yards, and eight touchdowns. Drummond missed the game against Liberty on Nov. 6 due to a hamstring injury but returned to the lineup and has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last two outings. Braylon Sanders (22 rec., 486 yds., 3 TDs) missed two games with a lower body injury but is back in the lineup as well, as is Jonathan Mingo (16, 292, 3), who caught his first pass since September last week against Vanderbilt. Jahcour Pearson (25, 389) and Dannis Jackson (12, 244, 2) stepped up when Drummond and Sanders were banged up, and Ealy (25, 171, TD) and Parrish (20, 169) can do damage as receivers out of the backfield.

When Mississippi State Has the Ball

Will Rogers leads the SEC and ranks third nationally in passing offense (374.1 ypg), and his 52.1 pass attempts per game and 76.1 percent completion rate both rank atop the FBS leaderboard. Rogers has thrown for at least 294 yards in every game this season and has four efforts of 400 or more, including 417 yards against Arkansas and 415 with a career-high six touchdowns versus Auburn his last two times out. He has thrown 34 touchdowns with eight interceptions this season and has been on fire lately with a 16:1 ratio over his last four contests.

Seven Mississippi State receivers have caught at least 25 passes, led by Makai Polk with 88. Polk also leads the Bulldogs with 891 yards and nine touchdowns. Jaden Walley (47 rec., 569 yds., 5 TDs), Austin Williams (45, 519, 4), and Malik Heath (33, 437, 5) round out the typical starting lineup at receiver, though running backs Jo'quavious Marks (73 rec., 435 yds., 3) and Dillon Johnson (53, 334, TD) are regular features in the passing game as well. Johnson leads the team with 397 rushing yards on 75 carries, including four touchdowns and Marks has gained 352 yards and scored five times on 93 attempts.

Although the Bulldogs barely lean on their running game, this could be a golden opportunity to pick up yards on the ground. Ole Miss ranks 13th in the SEC and 106th nationally with 192.0 rushing yards allowed per game, although their pass defense isn't much better at 237.6 yards allowed per game (12th SEC, 82nd nationally).

Final Analysis

Neither team has an elite defense, though Mississippi State has a slight edge statistically. The Bulldogs rank No. 25 in defensive success rate (38.2 percent) in non-garbage time situations, as well as 38th in predicted points added (0.157) and 2.03 points per drive, in non-garbage time against FBS opponents. Ole Miss ranks 109th in defensive success rate (46.5 percent), 69th in PPA (0.205), and 60th in points per drive (2.15). The Rebels have been better against the pass, having allowed 7.3 yards per attempt against FBS opponents compared to State's 7.6, which ranks 82nd, and have excelled rushing the passer with 37 sacks this season (No. 6 nationally), compared to 25 for the Bulldogs (No. 64). Sam Williams ranks second in the SEC and fifth nationally with 10.5 sacks. The units are relatively even in yards allowed per play, with Ole Miss having surrendered 5.64 on average against FBS opponents compared to 5.67 for the Bulldogs, which rank No. 64 and No. 68, respectively.

Ole Miss may have a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and a better overall record, but State has its own prolific passing attack, a solid defense, and home-field advantage. As a result, the Bulldogs enter as a slight favorite. But Corral, who himself has played through injury this season, finally has his entire receiving corps intact for the first time in months. Playing in his last Egg Bowl, expect Corral to solidify his spot as a Heisman finalist while leading the Rebels to win No. 10 on the national stage.

Prediction: Ole Miss 32, Mississippi State 29

— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.