OXFORD — When football season starts, most Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans pay some attention to how the other team is doing and with that form an opinion of how the Egg Bowl might play out.
And sometimes the picture that’s created has wild shifts as the game gets closer.
This is one of those seasons.
Ole Miss won its first seven games, then after the LSU loss had a nice bounce-back win in a difficult environment before Texas A&M became a complete dumpster fire.
Ole Miss was competitive with Alabama and had its chances to win but didn’t.
Then the Arkansas debacle, and suddenly the Rebels reach the Egg Bowl having lost three of their last four.
Confidence takes a hit, you add the Lane Kiffin-to-Auburn rumors, and the Rebels look very vulnerable.
Mississippi State began the season with high expectations based off eight returning starters on each side of the ball, including an accomplished quarterback who had the nation’s highest completion percentage in 2021.
It’s not unreasonable to say the Bulldogs left a win on the table at LSU but then bounced back with three straight home wins — Texas A&M and Arkansas among them — in which they scored 40 or more each time.
The road is where the Bulldogs looked like a different team, and for State the road is where the Egg Bowl is.
The Bulldogs took full advantage of their FCS game last week as they won 56-7 and rested a lot of players in a morning kickoff.
The downside for the latest version of the Bulldogs is that they’ve scored just one offensive touchdown in three of their last four Southeastern Conference games. In the other, there were long stretches of non-production before scrambling to win 39-33 against Auburn in overtime.
Those other three losses happened to be against Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky who are rated 1-2-3 in total defense in the SEC. Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to compete better against those strong defenses.
It’s all a lot to process in trying to provide an educated guess for the 119th meeting of Mississippi’s premier college football programs.
The sum of all parts tells me Ole Miss will find a way to run against MSU, especially if Zach Evans is healthy as he was against Arkansas and the Rebels can have their 1-2 punch with Evans and Quinshon Judkins.
Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart had played back-to-back games without a turnover until he had two against the Razorbacks. The body of work says there’s a good chance he’ll have one this game. We’ll see if the Rebels can absorb it.
State has shown a high-powered offense against some lesser SEC defenses, and that would come closer to describing Ole Miss than it would Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky.
The game will be decided by who defends in the red zone. State struggled on the Ole Miss end of the field last year.
Too often in this game, I fail to consider the emotional factor, and I think that really plays a part this year with the Kiffin-to-Auburn rumors.
He appears to be confirming those rumors by his refusal to squash them.
There’s no way Ole Miss players aren’t impacted by all that swirls around them.
Some State fans felt Dan Mullen was not fully engaged in his final Egg Bowl before he departed for Florida in 2017, and the Rebels won 31-28 in Starkville.
Turnabout is fair play.
Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Ole Miss 28
Dispatch sports editor and MSU beat writer Theo DeRosa: Before the season, I picked Mississippi State to finish 8-4 and win the Egg Bowl in the process. Early in the year, I felt pretty good about that, until Ole Miss remained unbeaten while MSU began to struggle. But the Rebels’ recent shortcomings have restored my confidence in my original prediction. Mike Leach and MSU may be 0-2 in Egg Bowls at the moment, but Leach tends to pull off an unexpected win or two every year, and this is as good an opportunity as he will have. Mississippi State would be in much better position if it ran the ball effectively, but the Bulldogs can still score at times, and Ole Miss’ defense has really struggled. I think MSU will do fairly well at defending Ole Miss’ strong run game as well. It will likely be close in Oxford, but I will take the Bulldogs to turn the tide. Mississippi State 31, Ole Miss 23.
Daily Journal Ole Miss beat writer Michael Katz: There are a lot of distractions around Ole Miss, and certainly a lot of reasons for the Rebels not to play well: Lane Kiffin’s future in Oxford and last week’s loss at Arkansas are rather large clouds. But the Egg Bowl brings out another gear most years, and I don’t think Ole Miss will be in the wrong headspace for a game like this. When the Rebels have struggled defensively this season, it’s been due to mobile quarterbacks that present threats in the running game. Will Rogers isn’t that type of quarterback. I think Ole Miss is in a better spot to defend Mississippi State’s offense than some of the other offenses it’s come across recently. The Rebels win a fairly close one. Ole Miss 34, Mississippi State 27
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