One of the talking points for Hugh Freeze on the day he was introduced as Ole Miss coach was the Mississippi State series.
He talked about he how understood the rivalry and what it means to people of the state.
I don’t think Houston Nutt really understood that, and there were several reasons for that. Nutt and his staff had a long run of success against Mississippi State while coaching at Arkansas. Their first year on the job in Oxford – Sylvester Croom’s last – they beat MSU 45-0.
After that season I thought there was too much distance between the two programs for the 2008 loser to make up the ground any time soon.
A year later Dan Mullen beat that staff 41-27.
That brings about this point. Emotions matter. Who wants it most is important.
When I ramble on Thursdays and insert a score at the bottom I’m thinking about matchups and recent play.
Sometimes I need to think more about the emotional aspect.
Emotion is something the Bulldogs have going for them this season. They are the underdogs. They have enough injuries at quarterback – apparently – to take on that “us against the world mentality.”
From an MSU perspective this game feels more like 2009 than any time since then, and Mullen obviously got those guys ready to play then.
Freeze has been known to get his players emotionally charged as well, though last week’s 24-10 loss to Missouri wasn’t a good example of that.
Missouri is the best SEC team I’ve seen since the Alabama game, but Ole Miss did a poor job of capitalizing on opportunities.
The Tigers rushed for 260 yards, and it wasn’t a good night of tackling for Ole Miss.
If quarterback Dak Prescott does not play, MSU will be without its leading rusher. The Bulldogs still have some physical runners in 5-9, 225-pounder Josh Robinson and in freshman quarterback Damian Williams.
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said last week’s tackling was more about fits than physicality. The Rebels overran plays and were at times out of position so that they were reaching instead of being able to lock up.
If that’s the case being in the right position Thursday should go a long way toward improved tackling.
The Rebels were unable to run consistently against an outstanding defense that night, and MSU will be physical up front as well.
Ole Miss must find an answer in the run game, and it’s not likely to be Jeff Scott, who was listed questionable by Freeze on Tuesday.
I’ll give a healthier Bo Wallace a good chance to move the Rebels in the passing game provided he gets protection against a team that hasn’t generated many sacks.
Wallace threw five touchdown passes against the Bulldogs last year – three of them to Donte Moncrief. Those are embarrassing numbers, and I’d suspect that Mullen will give Wallace and the Rebels a look or two they haven’t seen on this season’s video.
Ole Miss hasn’t won in Starkville since 2003 when Eli was a senior. It has gone into Starkville with the better team just once – 2009 – since that season.
Ole Miss has the better team this season, but the gap isn’t wide enough to take the Bulldogs for granted.
The Rebels need to execute better than they did against Missouri, and Freeze needs to call on his understanding of this rivalry to negate any emotional edge that State might gain. The Rebels need to play like they have a chip on their shoulder.
Prediction: Ole Miss 29, MSU 25