Egg Bowl: No. 25 MSU (8-3, 4-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5), Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPNU (Clay Matvick, Matt Stinchcomb and Allison Williams)
Five days ’til the big game, and we’ve set the table for you with a story about what’s at stake for Ole Miss. The Rebels have lost three consecutive games but can still become bowl eligible by beating MSU. If that happens, State and Ole Miss will be bowl eligible in the same season for the first time since 2000.
Also in today’s Journal is my Arkansas-MSU rewind. Later today, I’ll be at Dan Mullen‘s press conference, so follow me on Twitter for updates. And now, let’s take a look at MSU’s final regular season opponent.
• Last meeting: MSU, 31-3 (Nov. 26, 2011, in Starkville)
• Series: Ole Miss leads 60-42-6
• Ole Miss on the Web: OleMissSports.com
• Ole Miss Twitter follow: @parrishalford
• Ole Miss coach: Hugh Freeze (5-6, first year)
• Three Ole Miss players to watch: QB Bo Wallace, WR Donte Moncrief, LB Denzel Nkemdiche
• Premature review: In our Premature Preview of Ole Miss, I said the Rebels would top out at four wins, but what do I know? Freeze has done a good job putting some fire back in this program, especially on offense. Wallace has started all 11 games, completing 63.1 percent of his passes for 2,549 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s averaging 261.7 yards per game in SEC play, which ranks third in the league, and is 10th in pass efficiency.
The Rebels are averaging 417.7 total yards per game, which ranks 53rd nationally and is miles ahead of last season’s 281.3 average, which ranked 114th. There aren’t many stars on offense, but Moncrief is a dangerous weapon (53 catches, 775 yards, seven TDs). The rushing attack is decent, led by Jeff Scott (717 yards, six TDs). In SEC games, though, Ole Miss averages just 109.1 rushing yards per game, which ranks 13th.
Ole Miss was pretty impressive offensively in Saturday’s 41-35 loss at LSU, which is supposed to have one of the conference’s stingier defenses. The Rebs ran for 145 yards and passed for 316, and they out-gained LSU in total offense, 463-427. They led at halftime, 21-17. But Wallace threw three interceptions, and Ole Miss was held to 21 rushing yards in the second half. The Tigers won on a touchdown with 15 seconds left, the winning drive aided by a questionable personal foul call on Nkemdiche.
The Ole Miss defense seems to have gotten better on the whole as the season has gone on. It gave up 66 points and 676 yards to Texas back in Week 3, and things have been up and down since then. Georgia gained 533 total yards in a 37-10 Rebel loss on Nov. 3, and then the next week Vanderbilt managed only 92 rushing yards but passed for 279 in a 27-26 win in Oxford.
Nkemdiche, older brother of the nation’s No. 1 prospect for 2013, has become a playmaker as a redshirt freshman. He leads the team in tackles (75) and tackles-for-loss (12), and he’s second in sacks (3). One thing the Ole Miss defense has done exceptionally well is make tackles in the backfield: It averages 7.64 TFLs (eighth nationally) and 2.82 sacks (13th).
But the Rebels are susceptible to the pass, ranking 86th in pass efficiency defense. This is an aggressive defense that relies a lot on quickness, so it’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of deal.
This should be a close game Saturday. Vegas sure thinks so, and in fact has made Ole Miss an early 1-point favorite.