OXFORD — No. 20 Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) hosts Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 SEC) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
The Daily Journal caught up with Stefan Krajisnik of The Clarion-Ledger to see what he considers the keys to the Ole Miss-Mississippi State matchup.
This season has been a bit up and down for Mississippi State. Based on preseason expectations, would you say this team is about where it should be in Year 3 under Mike Leach?
Krajisnik: The loss against Kentucky definitely stings, but I think overall the definition of success this season will be pinned on this Egg Bowl. If MSU wins, it’s a bowl win away from a nine-win season two years removed from a 4-7 slate. On top of what was a tough 2022 schedule, that’d be impressive. However, a loss changes all of that and Leach is looking at a potential hot seat next season.
Where has Will Rogers improved the most from last year to this year? What is the current state of the Bulldogs’ offense? Is the Air Raid firing on all cylinders?
Krajisnik: Rogers’ biggest improvement has come in his ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage. He has checked into runs well for most of the season, which is when the Air Raid has been clicking. When the run game is there, it keeps defenses honest and sets up a stronger passing attack. That hasn’t been the case the last five games as it was the first six.
What makes Emmanuel Forbes so good? Is he the most important player on this MSU defense?
Krajisnik: It’s either Forbes or linebacker Tyrus Wheat. They’re both explosive whether it be in the secondary or the backfield. It’s a bit of a cliché answer, but his athleticism makes him elite. His knack for the ball is matched by an ability to go up for passes like a receiver and then make something happen when it’s in his hands.
What would an Egg Bowl win mean to this program? Does Mike Leach need this?
Krajisnik: Leach absolutely needs this. When you look at all the rumors swirling Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss, MSU has a chance to carry momentum into the offseason as a program built on stability. This rivalry means a lot to recruits, and losing three straight wouldn’t bode well for the Bulldogs.
If MSU is going to win in Oxford, _____ has to happen.
Krajisnik: Mississippi State has to force turnovers. Statistically, that means interceptions or fumbles. But knowing Kiffin’s aggressiveness, getting a turnover on downs does just as much. Players like Wheat and Forbes have to find ways to get that Ole Miss offense off the field and get the ball into Rogers’ hands.
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