Moorhead ready to lead Bulldogs into Egg Bowl for the first time

Published 8:00 am Thursday, November 22, 2018

It didn’t take long after arriving in Starkville for Joe Moorhead to learn the importance of the Egg Bowl. Practically everyone he met told him.

“When I got off the plane and started shaking hands and signing autographs, walking around the fence, there were a few people who relayed the importance of the game and what it means. So, that happened pretty quickly,” the first-year Mississippi State head coach recalled at his weekly press conference on Monday. “President (Mark) Keenum, in his office after the press conference (talked about it).”

Moorhead added that the lessons sunk in, and now he’ll get to write his first chapter in the long-running saga. Moorhead and the Bulldogs will travel north to Oxford on Thursday night to face Ole Miss for the 115th time.

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Ole Miss has won three of the last four in the series, and four of the last six, including a 31-28 victory last year in Starkville.

“This game has a lot of the ingredients of what makes college football and a great rivalry special: two great opponents, the proximity, familiarity, tradition, history, and, quite frankly, most importantly, players from around the state that have played with or against each other. I think that is what makes this game unique and special,” Moorhead said.

Besides bragging rights, the game is important in the arc of both teams’ seasons.

Ole Miss (5-6, 1-6 Southeastern Conference) is ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions, but can still finish .500 with a victory. The Rebels are also looking to shake off a four-game losing streak and head into the offseason on a positive note.

Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4), meanwhile, will go bowling somewhere. It can improve its standing in the SEC pecking order with another victory, as well as keep alive its hopes of a second consecutive nine-win season.

To pick up win No. 8, the Bulldogs need to find some offensive consistency while playing on the road. They’ve scored a total of 41 points in their four road games this season, with the bulk of those coming in a 31-10 win at Kansas State in September. In three road games since then at Kentucky, LSU and Alabama — all losses — they’ve scored one touchdown.

The Bulldogs also scored just six points in their other loss against Florida. Moorhead took some of the blame, but noted that the three road losses have all been against Top 25 teams. Ole Miss and its defense that ranks 113th out of 129 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed, is far from that caliber.

“In the seven wins, it was over 45 (points) per game and the losses it was at 17 points per game. I would say it is probably caliber of opponent, pointing the finger at me (in terms of) game plan and play calling, and certainly when you look at the teams we have lost to — Kentucky, LSU, Florida, Alabama — you’re playing a very good opponent. So, it is probably a combination of all of those factors.”

This Egg Bowl is an odd matchup of each team’s various units. Ole Miss’ defense and Mississippi State’s offense have both had their struggles, but Ole Miss’ offense and Mississippi State’s defense have been among the best in the SEC.

Ole Miss is averaging nearly 37 points and 540 yards per game. Mississippi State has only allowed an SEC-best 12 touchdown all season and 12.8 points per game.

“I believe they allowed 20 points per game last year, or something in that range, that is very good,” Moorhead said. “For (our defense) to be able to elevate their level of production and performance, I don’t think we gave up a rushing touchdown at home and very few points. If I were to classify it, I had high expectations, but in a lot of ways this probably exceeded my expectation level, to be honest with you. That is hard to do, because we have very high standards.”

• Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
• Radio: 105.5 FM (MSU) and 1490 AM/107.7 FM (Ole Miss)

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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