Dogs, Rebels pass in opposite directions

Published 11:42 am Friday, November 25, 2011

A multitude of storylines await Saturday night’s Egg Bowl in Starkville.

Mississippi State (5-6) needs a win against archrival Ole Miss to become bowl eligible. A win would also make it three straight in the series for the Bulldogs, marking the first time that has happened since 1939-43. Mississippi State won last year in Oxford, 31-23.

For Ole Miss, which has not won since beating Fresno State on Oct. 1, a win would send departing coach Houston Nutt out on a bright note. The Rebels (2-9, 0-7 Southeastern Conference) have been a disaster the last six games, losing all but one by large margins. Following a loss at Kentucky, Nutt was told he would not be returning for his fifth season in Oxford.

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Nutt said in his weekly press conference that part of the Rebels’ downward spiral was not putting an emphasis on the Egg Bowl the way Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has.

“Number one, it is very important. The first year coming here we beat them 45-0 and beat them nine out of 10 years at Arkansas,” Nutt said. “But, all it takes is one loss against them. Then you understand the importance of it much better. I understand it fully. We understand the emphasis that needs to be put on this game 100 percent.”

Mullen has certainly been the opposite of Nutt in that regard. From needling Ole Miss fans by referring to the opposition as “the school up north,” to being the centerpiece of an ad campaign proclaiming Mississippi is “our state,” exerting the Bulldogs’ dominance in the rivalry has been a priority for Mullen.

Mississippi State corner back Corey Broomfield said that beating Ole Miss is the primary goal of the entire program.

“We win, we get another 365 days of happiness,” Broomfield said. “I think it will be a great game. They’re coming in here and we expect them to play hard and give themselves a chance to win.”

Nutt said his time in the Southeastern Conference and his personal conviction will get his team ready one more time.

“I don’t like going out this way and I don’t like losing,” Nutt said. “ I am very competitive and losing wrenches my gut. I try to do everything I can to win. I look at it like this, 14 years is a pretty good run in the toughest conference in America and there aren’t too many people that can say that.”

Mullen, meanwhile, knows what’s at stake for his program. The Bulldogs (5-6, 1-6) won’t make another New Year’s Day bowl appearance, but any sort of postseason game would give the team some momentum heading into next season and erase the disappointment of this one.

“We want to go to a bowl for a third straight year,” Mullen said. “We definitely want to finish the (regular) season with a win because it leaves a great taste in your mouth for the next month and into the offseason.”

Mississippi State will use all three of its quarterbacks against Ole Miss. Sophomore Tyler Russell (69-of-129 for 1,034 yards, eight touchdowns) will likely start, while Chris Relf and third-stringer Dylan Favre will play.

“We have different packages for all three and that just gives them (Ole Miss) more to look out for,” Mullen said.

Ole Miss will start West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti. The sophomore started the opener against BYU, was ineffective and then saw limited duty until last week’s 52-3 loss to No. 1 ranked LSU.