Mississippi State seemed to be in the best position it could be in, given that the Bulldogs were losing.
Late in the second quarter Thursday against rival Ole Miss, MSU drove all the way from its own 21-yard line to the Rebels’ 5, setting up first-and-goal. The Bulldogs trailed 10-6, but with 54 seconds left in the period, they had enough time for a touchdown before the half. Mississippi State also was set to receive the second-half kickoff, lining up the Bulldogs for two potential scores before Ole Miss touched the ball again.
Five and a half minutes later, the Bulldogs were down by two scores. They went on to lose the Battle for the Golden Egg 31-21, as the Rebels lifted the gleaming trophy on the sidelines of Davis Wade Stadium.
In just three drives, Mississippi State had squandered its best chance to take the lead — and possibly extend it — and had let Ole Miss retake any scrap of momentum lingering on the field
The Dispatch will break down each of the three possessions from Thursday’s game as the Bulldogs came up short in Starkville.
Drive No. 1
Start: Mississippi State 21-yard line
The Bulldogs moved the ball efficiently after taking over with 2:15 to go in the half at their own 21 following an Ole Miss touchdown.
After two incompletions, quarterback Will Rogers found Lideatrick Griffin for a 19-yard gain over the middle. Griffin made two more catches on the drive, including an impressive 32-yard leaping grab near the left sideline. He then took a screen down to the 16-yard line.
Jo’quavious Marks took a short pass down to the 5 on the next play, putting the Bulldogs tantalizingly close to pay dirt. Then everything started to fall apart.
Rogers escaped pressure on the next snap and found Marks at the 2, but the running back turned upfield before securing the ball, losing it out of bounds.
Stalwart left tackle Charles Cross was called for holding on a second-down incompletion, pushing the Bulldogs back to the 15. Rogers tossed the ball to a wide-open Marks running a wheel route on the left side, but the running back didn’t see it; it caromed off his helmet and to the ground.
Then Griffin leapt again for a third-down pass in the end zone, just to see it slip right through his hands. It forced Mississippi State to settle for a 33-yard field goal that Nolan McCord pulled right the whole way, missing the kick with 11 seconds to go. Without enough time to drive down the field and score, Ole Miss took a knee to send the game to halftime with a 10-6 lead.
Drive No. 2
Start: MSU 25
By virtue of Ole Miss’ choice to receive the opening kickoff, Mississippi State got the ball to start the second half.
That worked out well for the Bulldogs on Nov. 13 at Auburn, going two-for-one with scores both before and after halftime. Mississippi State, of course, came back from a 28-3 deficit to win 43-34.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t put anything together after the break Thursday.
Rogers found Polk on an out route for a 10-yard gain on the first play of Mississippi State’s opening drive, but it was the only first down the Bulldogs would get.
The sophomore quarterback went deep for Malik Heath on first down, but the toss into double coverage was slightly off target, glancing off Heath’s far hand on its way to the turf.
On second down, J.J. Jernighan took a handoff from Rogers and cut to the left, climbing through a small hole to get down to the 40 with a 5-yard gain.
But the Bulldogs’ third-down play left much to be desired. After a pump fake over the middle, Rogers checked the ball down to running back Dillon Johnson well behind the line of scrimmage. Johnson escaped Ole Miss defensive back Miles Battle but couldn’t shake both Chance Campbell and Cedric Johnson, who took him down for a 5-yard loss.
Facing fourth-and-10, Mississippi State sent on punter Archer Trafford, who booted the ball 47 yards to the Ole Miss 18, where Dontario Drummond made a fair catch.
Drive No. 3
Start: Ole Miss 18
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral got the Rebels’ offense going quickly on a seven-play, 82-yard touchdown drive.
Corral checked down to running back Jerrion Ealy for a 9-yard gain on first down. With the Rebels playing up tempo, Corral hit Drummond for 5 yards and a first down on the next play.
Only eight seconds had come off the play clock when Corral called for the snap, handing the ball off to Ealy for an 11-yard gain.
The Rebels’ fourth play was their biggest of the drive, as Corral faked the handoff to Ealy and tossed the ball to Drummond on the left side. Cornerback Emmanuel Forbes overpursued and missed his tackle, and Drummond raced past linebacker Aaron Brule and down the sideline. By the end of the play, he was practically jogging as he followed the block of Jonathan Mingo all the way to the Mississippi State 23.
Snoop Conner rushed to the right side and hurdled a Bulldogs defender for a 7-yard gain before Corral cut up the middle on a quarterback draw. The Rebels signal-caller was hit around the 5 and stumbled all the way to the 1, and Conner punched the ball in easily on the next play.
Ole Miss kicker Cale Nation added the extra point to push the Rebels’ lead to 17-6. Mississippi State still had a chance to come back, but the Bulldogs — once again — couldn’t make it happen.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.