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Mississippi State trying to extend its bowl streak to 10 years

STARKVILLE (AP) — Bragging rights aren’t the only thing on the line for Mississippi State at this year’s Egg Bowl.

The Bulldogs (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) need a win Thursday night over rival Ole Miss (4-7, 2-5) to become eligible for a 10th straight bowl appearance.

“Kids are aware of it,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said of the streak. “It’s not something we really even have to talk about. We’re on the cusp of bowl eligibility and we’ve got to win this one to get to the postseason.

“I don’t believe in feeling pressure, but I do believe in applying pressure. We have to make sure we play well, and if we do that, we get to extend the season.”

Mississippi State went 8-5 and lost to Iowa in the Outback Bowl last year in Moorhead’s debut season. Mississippi State has won two of the past three Egg Bowls, including a 35-3 decision last season in Oxford that included a brawl late in the third quarter.

Ole Miss holds a 22-14-3 advantage in Egg Bowls held at Mississippi State. The road team in this rivalry has won the last four meetings.

“I think this game stands alone and you can’t worry about what happened last year,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “These are two brand new teams, different set of circumstances, but I think you really don’t need any extra motivation when it comes to this game. It’s very important on its own.”

Both teams have struggled in SEC play this year. Ole Miss, which hasn’t reached a bowl since 2015, will finish with a losing record for the second straight season.
But the Bulldogs and Rebels still have plenty of incentive in this heated rivalry.

“It’s a game that means a ton for both schools,” Moorhead said. “It’s a game that is played with a lot of emotion and great passion. We have to make sure we do everything we have to do to make sure that beautiful (Egg Bowl) trophy stays here.”

Mississippi State kept its hopes of bowl eligibility alive last week with a 45-7 blowout of Football Championship Subdivision program Abilene Christian. The Bulldogs racked up 372 rushing yards in that game — running back Kylin Hill had 153 yards and caught a touchdown pass as well — but realize they face a tougher test this week.

“We have to take each rep with a purpose, knowing it’s a big-time game,” Mississippi State center Darryl Williams said. “Not just because it’s senior night, but because it’s a big-time rivalry game. Everybody wants the Egg Bowl trophy and we’ve got to get this win to get bowl eligible.”

Moorhead also needs his team to keep its cool.

Last year, four players were disqualified after the fight between the Bulldogs and Rebels. The sidelines emptied and each player on both teams was accessed an unsportsmanlike penalty.

“We’ve talked about that this week,” Moorhead said. “We need controlled passion and controlled aggression. We need our play to speak between the whistles and not before the game or after the game. You can’t let the excitement of the rivalry take away from your preparation for the game.”

Luke agreed. He said his coaching staff has not addressed the fight so as not to dwell on it.

“We haven’t addressed (the fight). That’s in the past,” Luke said. “Obviously this is a representation of the whole state of Mississippi. This is a national showcase game for the whole state. You want to make sure you represent your school and the state of Mississippi the right way.”

Mississippi State will have a full roster for one of the few times this season. Ten players were suspended for eight games at the beginning of the year for academic violations. The coaches were able to pick which games to sit them, but Moorhead said that caused problems as players moved from the scout team during suspension weeks to the main roster when they were playing.

“It certainly doesn’t help continuity. Everyone is aware of the situation, 10 (student-athletes suspended) at the beginning of the year then you have to pick the games that they’re able to play. Then they bounce back and forth between scout team and travel squad. It certainly is a game that in all three phases you need precision and consistency. That’s just something that’s one of the few obstacles and roadblocks that we’ve got to deal with. I think the kids have taken it in stride. It’s just another thing we’re going to have to overcome.”

EGG BOWL – OLE MISS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE
• Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 1490 AM/107.7 FM (Ole Miss broadcast) and 105.5 FM (Mississippi State broadcast)