Bulldogs, Rebels both have plenty to play for in Egg Bowl

Published 6:18 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2023

STARKVILLE (AP) — Ole Miss is nearing 10 wins for the second time in three seasons and looking forward to another bowl game. Mississippi State seeks postseason eligibility, though the broader focus in Starkville is on who will be the next head coach.

Those are the goals in play Thanksgiving night between the Magnolia State rivals, in addition to earning bragging rights in the annual Battle for the Golden Egg. A victory offers some revenge for the No. 12 Rebels (9-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference), especially after falling a two-point conversion attempt shy of tying last year’s soggy showdown the Bulldogs won 24-22 in Oxford.

“That game has ate at me ever since we walked off the field,” Rebels quarterback Jaxson Dart said. “It’s a game that I really want back. I know the other guys on the team feel the exact same way about it. We can’t wait for the opportunity to play in it.”

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Ole Miss has won six of seven, including last Saturday’s 35-3 non-conference rout of Louisiana-Monroe. The Rebels are just a win away from their second 10-win regular season under Lane Kiffin and a possible New Year’s Six bowl appearance, some consolation for falling short of winning the SEC West title. Kiffin can join John Vaught as the only Rebels coaches with multiple 10-win seasons.

Most coaches don’t admit to looking ahead to the next week’s opponent. Kiffin said that’s just what he and his staff did before facing Louisiana-Monroe, given the short turnaround. The Rebels went straight to MSU game film Sunday, normally a day off, after reviewing the ULM game.

“Right or wrong, we game-planned last week, which is very unusual to do that in another opponent week,” Kiffin admitted.

Success depends on clearing Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5), which outscored Southern Miss 18-13 in the fourth quarter to win 41-20 in Greg Knox’s first game as interim coach after the school fired Zach Arnett on Nov. 13. Record-setting quarterback Will Rogers (144 yards passing, two touchdowns) and dual-threat running back Jo’Quavious Marks returned from missing multiple games with injuries, connecting for one score passing and restoring some flash to an offense that scored only 33 points over the previous four contests.

Rogers was admittedly rusty against Southern Miss in his return from a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury sustained against Western Michigan on Oct. 7. But he stayed active during his recovery by practicing with the scout team and coaching teammates on the sideline during games.

“I lost some weight, wasn’t able to lift as much in the weight room week to week,” said Rogers, MSU’s career passing leader and owner of multiple school records. “But, you know, I felt in shape. I felt good after the game and just trying to try to take care of my body on a short week.”

The defense also regrouped to hold the Golden Eagles to 246 yards and seal the outcome with Marcus Banks’ 60-yard interception return for a score. MSU must provide even more resistance against Ole Miss’ potent offense to not only clinch a bowl berth, but maintain superiority over its archrival.

“A lot of guys, this is our, fourth, fifth or sixth Egg Bowl,” Rogers said. “We’re obviously really excited to play the game and you know they’re going to be excited to play. You don’t win nine games for nothing. We have to control our emotions, be ready to play and just execute the plan.”

OLE MISS AT MISSISSIPPI STATE
• Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
• TV: ESPN
• Radio: 107.7 FM (Ole Miss) and 105.5 FM (Mississippi State)