STARKVILLE –Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin confirmed after the football team’s 17-10 overtime victory against Ole Miss on Thursday night the school has begun pre-selling process for three bowl destinations.
MSU is allowing fans to buy tickets for the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., Advocare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.
“We really think those three bowls are the most in play for us after this win,” Stricklin said.
The victory Thursday night helped MSU (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) qualify for a bowl for the fourth-straight season for the first time in program history. MSU has won six or more games four seasons in a row for the first time since 1997-2000. Mullen also has guided MSU to wins against Ole Miss in four of the last five meetings for just the second time since 1950.
The bowl announcements won’t be made until Dec. 8. MSU won’t begin bowl practices until after next week when final exams are completed.
Nkemdiche jersey controversy leads to number change in second half
According to a new rule instituted this season, Ole Miss was forced to have freshman Robert Nkemdiche change jersey numbers from No. 5 to No. 99 in the second half.
Nkemdiche, who is listed as a defensive tackle and was the top-ranked prospect in this past year’s recruiting season, carried the ball from the tailback position four times for 21 yards. Nkemdiche’s night on offense included a 18-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Ole Miss 28-yard line in a scoreless tie early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s an ethical deal where if your starting tailback is No. 5 then you can’t try to sneak in another player at tailback at No. 5,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “It would be like us having all our punters wear No. 15, and then you don’t know if Dak Prescott is back there possibly on a fake.”
The new byline, which was voted in by the NCAA competition committee, states teams can’t have players who play the same position share the same number. Ole Miss already had sophomore tailback I’Tavius Mathers wearing No. 5 and getting carries before Nkemdiche touched the football. After play-by-play announcer Rece Davis pointed out the rules violation on ESPN’s broadcast, MSU coaches informed the SEC officials on the field of the violation. According to Mullen, Ole Miss was issued a warning after the referees were informed. The Rebels announced Nkemdiche would wear No. 99 the remainder of the game.
It wasn’t the first time Nkemdiche had touched the ball on offense this season. In the opener against Vanderbilt, the 290-pound lineman ran for 11 yards on a fake punt to convert on fourth-and-inches.
MSU special teams snafu nearly costs Bulldogs
Ole Miss’ only touchdown came on a blocked punt by senior Dehendret Collins and the recovery in the end zone by Terrell Grant.
“I told (senior) Terrell Grant that if I was the one to block a punt, I would want him to recover it for a touchdown because this is the last time we would be able to play at Mississippi State,” Collins said. “We were able to go into the locker room with the game tied, which gave our team motivation.”
The play, which occurred with less than a minute left in the first half, symbolized the special teams troubles for MSU all season. MSU was leading 7-0 and could’ve taken a lead into the locker room at halftime, but it lost all momentum when senior Baker Swedenburg fumbled the catch and then had his punt blocked deep in the end zone.
Mullen said after the game Swedenburg was supposed to get off a one-step punt but got flustered after he fumbled the catch on the long snap. Ole Miss came with an all-out blitz and had multiple attackers break free of MSU’s blocking assignments.
MSU also missed a 38-yard field goal wide right by freshman walk-on Evan Sobiesk to end regulation. Sobiesk and sophomore Devon Bell finished the regular season 9 of 20 on field goals.
Ole Miss had an early special teams gaffe as Andrew Ritter missed a 27-yard field goal when the ball deflected off the left upright.
MSU open to continuing Egg Bowl game in Starkville
Stricklin was one of the most interested observers Thursday night to see the reaction to the Egg Bowl rivalry game being re-introduced to a Thanksgiving night.
Stricklin was adamant 30 minutes before kickoff that he “loves the atmosphere and excitement” of the game being nationally televised on Thanksgiving. The game hadn’t been played on Thanksgiving since 2003.
“I think it brings more exposure to both schools, and that’s never a bad thing,” Stricklin said. “I’ll be interested in seeing the crowd numbers, but I think it’s going to be really good.”
Stricklin told The Dispatch he would open to discussing continuing the game on Thanksgiving when it’s played in Starkville as long as ESPN or another national television company broadcasts the game. Stricklin said no broadcast partner or any official at Ole Miss has talked to him about playing the rivalry game on Thanksgiving in Oxford.
“It’s such a network television driven thing, but I’ll tell you this: I’ll continue to always take that phone call,” Stricklin said.
Russell’s college career likely over
Mullen all but declared quarterback Tyler Russell’s college career over Thursday night.
Russell, the Bulldogs’ fifth-year senior, is battling a severe shoulder injury and was unable to move his right arm at the game.
“I would imagine (he’s done), but we’ll see,” Mullen said. “(The training staff) doesn’t feel good about it. The earliest we’ll play is in late December, so who knows.”
Russell had his right arm in the same black sling he wore after the victory at Arkansas this past Saturday. Last week, he had 263 passing yards and two touchdowns in a 24-17 overtime victory against Arkansas. He moved ahead of Don Smith and Derrick Taite for third place on the school’s all-time passing yards list with 5,441 yards.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.