OXFORD — As Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers cocked his arm back and fired a last-ditch Hail Mary effort trailing by seven points, fans in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium held their collective breath.
Nothing out of this world insane had occurred yet in the Egg Bowl, so something batcrap nuts had to happen on the game’s final play, right?
“Oh, that’s going to be a touchdown, isn’t it?” one press box scribe opined as Rogers’ pass hung in the air. Nevertheless, there was no miracle catch. Rogers’ pass landed harmlessly on the field as Rebels players sprinted to midfield in celebration.
Ole Miss recaptured the Golden Egg on Saturday after a two-game losing streak with a 31-24 victory in what was a competitive yet surprisingly tame contest.
For years, the Egg Bowl has been described by many as toxic. “Egg Bowl Twitter” is most certainly a thing. But all of that would be news to anyone who watched this rivalry unfold for the first time.
There were no unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. No chippiness from either side following a play, at least no more than any normal week. There certainly wasn’t anyone pretending to pee like a dog in the end zone.
Maybe it was partly due to a reduced crowd because of the pandemic, but in comparison to last year, Saturday sure didn’t feel like a game between two rivals who couldn’t stand each other. Even in a close game, the on-field entertainment value certainly didn’t live up to its multi month-long hype machine, which was always going to be out of control considering the coaches of both teams.
All that aside, when the smoke cleared, round one of who knows how many more goes to Lane Kiffin. Ole Miss had a talented quarterback-wide receiver combo in Matt Corral and Elijah Moore that was plenty efficient to take advantage of a severely undermanned secondary, as the Bulldogs took Jerry Hollingsworth Field with 45 available scholarship players. MSU was shorthanded enough that even a loss to Ole Miss likely won’t deflate most of the fanbase, even if they’ll have to hear relentless ribbing from their friends with Ole Miss allegiances. Considering how lifeless the Bulldogs looked two weeks ago in a win against Vanderbilt, maybe it’s a small moral victory Mike Leach pleased with his team’s effort for the second straight week.
“I thought we played extremely hard,” Leach said. “We had young guys playing hard. I was proud of them.”
Meanwhile, Bulldogs safety Landon Guidry needs a hug after getting torched by multiple Ole Miss receivers for long touchdowns. Instead of committing a costly unsportsmanlike penalty, Moore showcased his growth into one of the nation’s best receivers by passing A.J. Brown’s single-season school record for receptions and amassing 139 yards against the Bulldogs. As a team, Ole Miss accumulated 550 total yards of offense utilizing a fast-paced, hurry-up attack. Jaden Walley broke a MSU freshman receiver record for most yards in a single game with 176. Kiffin went for it on fourth down so many times Leach was unsure who the first-year Ole Miss coach hated more: his punter or his kicker.
And despite the civility on the field, the trophy coming back to Oxford meant plenty to Ole Miss players.
“To see them in the locker room, it was like they won the Super Bowl,” Kiffin said postgame.
Maybe the most alarming aspect of the 2020 Egg Bowl is the season isn’t over yet for either team. MSU won’t play its regularly scheduled contest against Missouri next week because of some — let’s call it “creative” — scheduling by the SEC so Alabama and LSU can face each other on Dec. 5. The regular season may stretch through Dec. 19, and based on ESPN’s bowl projection from the previous week, the Bulldogs could be in a bowl game on Dec. 26.
The Bulldogs possibly playing in the regular season until a week before Christmas, a tame Egg Bowl, a possible two- to four-win team in a bowl game. Buckle up.
It’s a season that will finish unlike any other.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.