Preview: Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State

Photo by Chris Evans

Photo by Chris Evans

Last week’s matchup against the Arkansas Razorbacks was pretty rough for the Ole Miss Rebels. Bad Bo Wallace (4 TOs, 2 of which were INTs on should be TD passes.) came back in a big way at a horrible time for Ole Miss. Getting shut out on the road in a game that most everybody had penciled in as a win to start the season is disappointing to say the least. But the real disappointment for the Rebels came in the aftermath of the game as most media members started saying that the 7-0 start and national attention was more fluke less fact. After starting the season on a roll, Ole Miss has gone 1-3 in its last four with the lone win coming over Presbyterian. Yes two of those games were heartbreakers, but Arkansas completely dismantled Ole Miss. The dreams of 10-2 are gone and now the Rebels are staring down a potential 8-4 season, which would be a huge disappointment given their hot start.

And sadly, the lone game remaining, the one that could salvage the season, is going to be a really, really tough one for the Rebs. In most years the Egg Bowl has no bearing on the postseason, but this year Mississippi State is playing for a lot more than Ole Miss. Win or lose Ole Miss goes to a middle of the road SEC bowl game. But if State wins, they keep their hopes of making the College Football Playoff alive. So the game really comes down to whether or not Ole Miss wants to play spoiler badly enough.

For Ole Miss to win, a lot of things have to go the Rebels way. And they all revolve around defense.

First, they have to be able to stop the run, which they have had trouble with all season (See all three Rebel losses.). And that won’t be easy with the human bowling ball Josh Robinson carrying the ball for the Bulldogs. He’s a beast of a back and hard to take down to say the least. On top of Robinson the Bulldogs have Dak Prescott, the SEC’s top rushing QB. Once the season is all said and done, Prescott will have rushed for over 1000 yards. The Rebel defensive line and linebackers need to be ready for this potent rushing attack. If not, this game could look a lot like the Arkansas one.

Second, the Rebels must be ready for the big play-action passes that come with a good rush game from State. If the Bulldogs get into a good rhythm running the ball, play-action will come easily for Prescott. The home run plays could come in a hurry if this is the case, and State could very well blow the game wide open with one or two of those. Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt will both be playing their last home games as Rebels. Will they be able to contain Prescott’s legit passing game?

Lastly the Ole Miss defense needs to play with a chip on their shoulder. In the losses to Auburn and Arkansas, they have given up a combined 65 points, not exactly a great number for what many considered the best defense in the SEC. The Landsharks have to get their swagger back in a big way if they want to take down the potent Bulldog offense. If they get down early, will they roll over? Or will they keep fighting and show out the way they did in their first eight games?

Yes, Bo Wallace and the Rebel offense need to score points, and that won’t be easy against a good State defense. But regardless of whether or not the Rebs score points, the Bulldogs need to be held to 20 or less for the Rebels to have a chance. I think Ole Miss could easily hang around if the score stays in the teens, but once State gets up in the 20s, Ole Miss will struggle.

So here’s the deal. Ole Miss is going to fight hard for this one. Crazy things happen in the Egg Bowl every year. It’s at home, which will help the Rebels out a lot. But I think that Mississippi State is just the better team and know they are playing for a kind of relevancy they haven’t seen in years. The game will be a close one, but I think Dan Mullen, Dak Prescott, and the gang pull it out and go to the first ever College Football Playoff. Kudos to them if it happens. They’ve had a great season.

As for Hugh Freeze and the Rebels, I imagine I will be previewing their appearance in the Outback Bowl here in about a month. Be on the look out for that one.

Mississippi State 35 – Ole Miss 27

Warner Russell covers Ole Miss Football for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff over on The Wise Guise. Follow him on Twitter @uncle_warny.

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