A week ago, you might have said this game would be a toss-up between two teams with very little going for them.
Now, at least one of them has a little bit of momentum.
Mississippi State was rolling through mid-October. The Bulldogs were 7-0 and 3-0 in conference play, but right as they approached the meat of their schedule—and a three-game slate that featured Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU—they couldn't find a way to win, just as many expected. Until then, they hadn't had to prove themselves. They were beating up on the conference's weakest opponents.
And when the Bulldogs finally got a chance to make a statement against the big guns, they utterly failed.
Last week, on the heels of a three-game losing streak, they got back on track with a 45-14 win against Arkansas, and with a season-ending win over Ole Miss, they have an opportunity to end their season a very respectable 9-3.
And whether the Rebels can even put up a fight remains to be seen. Last week, they were on the verge of doing something huge—knocking off No. 7 LSU—but they allowed 21 fourth-quarter points, including the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds left, to drop their third straight.
After a heartbreaking loss like that, who knows whether the Rebels have anything left?
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, University, Miss.
When: Saturday, Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Even
Mississippi State Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- LB Ferlando Bohanna (groin) is questionable for Saturday after missing one game
Ole Miss Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- DE Carlos Thompson (shoulder) is questionable for Saturday after missing two games
- RB Charlie Scott is questionable with an undisclosed injury after missing two games
- DB Wesley Pendleton (ankle) is questionable after missing three games
- LB Aaron Garbutt (illness) is questionable after missing three games
- WR Collins Moore (shoulder) is out for the season
- LB D.T. Shackleford (knee) is out for the season
One of these teams is bowl eligible, and the other can be with one more win on its home turf to close out the season. Ole Miss was 15 seconds away from playing spoiler to LSU last weekend, and putting itself in the mix for a bowl, but couldn't hold on when it mattered the most, and the Rebels now find themselves 5-6 overall and 2-5 in conference play. They should be able to scrounge up some extra motivation with a game against their biggest rival on tap for Saturday.
Mississippi State has a very challenging task ahead of it, but still has a lot to play for, despite its own late-season slide. The Rebels are still going to play in a bowl game, though it may not be one of the games they thought they would be playing in after starting off the season 7-0. But underestimating Ole Miss at this stage is the biggest mistake they could make.
Both of these teams are capable of putting up a lot of points, and they're both going to be giving it everything they have on Saturday in order to strengthen their postseason stock. And both of them are going to be going all out to screw things up for each other.
What They're Saying
The Bulldogs are gunning for their fourth consecutive win over Ole Miss—which, according to The Commercial Appeal's Ron Higgins, is a feat that hasn't been accomplished since 1939-42. And objectively, it doesn't seem as though Ole Miss is going to be able to stop history from running its course, considering its lack of depth on defense.
Ole Miss' lack of depth, combined with the wear and tear of the season, has caught up with the Rebels, especially on defense where there is virtually no depth at linebacker and in the backfield.
In terms of a lengthier history of the rival between these two, GridironHistory.com offers some perspective:
Ole Miss leads series vs Mississippi State, 58-44-6 See gridironhistory.com/versus/Ole%20M…— GridironHistory.com (@GridironHistory) November 19, 2012
Ole Miss fan David Humphries provides a look at this year's Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State T-shirt:
The Rebels aren't fooling themselves into thinking that beating Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl is going to be an easy task, despite the Rebels' unimpressive record. With bowl eligibility on the line—plus a chance to prevent a four-game losing streak to their biggest rivals—Mississippi State could encounter the Rebels at their most desperate.
Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen told the Associated Press he notices a notable difference in this year's Ole Miss team:
They play hard. That's the one thing I see. Not that they didn't play hard before, but you see just a little more energy and sense of urgency.
But Mullen, who has never lost an Egg Bowl, according to the AP, doesn't plan on experiencing a first this year.
Mississippi State Player(s) to Watch
Last week's win over Arkansas marked a resurgence for the Bulldogs. After three straight losses against some of the SEC's best, they got back to playing their game—putting up a ton of points and playing solid defense—and they'll have to keep doing that on Saturday to hold off Ole Miss.
And, of course, they'll have to utilize two of their biggest offensive weapons, both of whom came up big in last week's win. Senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis hauled in a team-leading six receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns, while junior running back LaDarius Perkins complemented his 91 rushing yards with 40 yards in the air and two touchdown receptions.
Those two receiving touchdowns marked Perkins' first in the air this season, though he hasn't been too shabby on the ground, either: He's scored at least one touchdown in all but two games this season.
The last time out, Mississippi State accumulated 505 total yards. If the Bulldogs can similarly overwhelm the Rebels' weak and unproven defense, they will be good to go.
Ole Miss Player to Watch
The problems on defense are obviously the most pressing for the Rebels, but they're going to need to keep up with Mississippi State offensively, too, if they have any hope of pulling off the victory at home on Saturday.
And that means another big game from sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace is a must. The Rebels outgunned LSU in the air and on the ground last week, and Wallace was the catalyst. He threw two touchdown passes and scored two on the ground to give the Rebels their very best chance of winning, and he needs to be just that good on Saturday.
And that, of course, means cutting down on the interceptions. For as many opportunities as he gave his own team last weekend, Wallace gave the Tigers almost as many, tossing three picks for his fourth multi-interception game of the season.
If he can cut down on the turnovers, Ole Miss will have a real chance.
There is plenty at stake for Ole Miss in this game—it will just come down to whether or not it can execute, and whether or not it can hold on defensively.
In their last two games, the Rebels have blown late leads and put themselves in a desperate position where they either need to knock off their biggest rival or go home unhappy. And to knock off their biggest rival, they're going to have to show a little something more on defense, all injuries and bumps and bruises aside.
Last week, they allowed LSU to score two unanswered touchdowns in the final minutes of the game to blow their lead; a week before that, in a 26-25 loss to Vanderbilt, they entered the third quarter with a 23-6 lead but allowed three Vandy TDs over the final 25 minutes to blow that one, too.
Mississippi State may be the better team, but Ole Miss has proven it can compete, at the very least. It's focusing down the stretch that has proven to be the problem, and it is one the Rebels absolutely must conquer on Saturday.
Prediction: Ole Miss Wins
It's been nothing but disappointment for the Rebels over the last several weeks, but they have what it takes to pull off a big win. They just haven't been able to stay in the game long enough to prove it. But this week, they're at home, their backs are against the wall and they have a chance to pin a loss on their biggest rivals—and become bowl eligible—for the first time in a long time.
This time, they should be able to drudge up the motivation to hold on.