By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
Having the home field advantage in the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game is very important former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
Nutt defeated the Bulldogs 45-0 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium his first season in 2008. Nutt went on to say that he truly didn’t understand the rivalry, coming from Arkansas, until the 2009 meeting that was played in Starkville.
“We had beaten Mississippi State nine out of 10 times when I was at Arkansas and then that first year we beat them very handily at home,” Nutt said. “In my mind, it was ‘We’re going to beat Mississippi State.’ I truly didn’t understand the rivalry until that next year. I really thought we would go to Starkville the following year and I thought the same thing, that we would win handily.”
Mississippi State, under first-year coach Dan Mullen, upset the No. 20 Rebels 41-27. That Ole Miss team was headed to the AT&T Cotton Bowl for the second straight season, while the Bulldogs finished up 5-6.
“When we didn’t win that game, that’s when I first realized that throughout the year, that’s all I heard about when I went to the grocery store or go get horse feed or wherever,” Nutt said. “It was ‘Man, we got to beat Mississippi State.’ At Arkansas, we didn’t really have a rival making the transition from the Southwest Conference to the SEC. LSU was really the one they tried to make a rival behind the boot trophy. I started to understand that this was a big time, big time deal. And home field advantage is huge.”
Another thing that stood out to Nutt about the Egg Bowl was the amount of passion both teams play with.
“It’s tremendous passion and the thing that was very tough and difficult was the stretch of those last three games,” Nutt said. “When you look at the schedule, usually you had LSU right before Mississippi State. That’s another one that brings out so much energy and passion for your school. That was always a tough game and then you end it with an even more intense game in Mississippi State. You can see it and really feel it.”
Nutt and his staff put up a clock counting down to the Egg Bowl after the 2009 loss.
“From then I said ‘Ok, we understand it, we’re putting totally emphasis on this thing,'” said Nutt, who was unable to defeat the Bulldogs in 2010 or 2011.
Nutt recalls the Bulldogs being a hotter team coming in to Oxford in 2010, then adding he felt like his Rebels should have won the 2009 game for sure.
“The second year we should have won. We were going to a bowl and had a really good season and we took them for granted and you can’t do that,” Nutt said. “They were probably a little better my third year. The fourth year, when they say that your coach is going to be let go on Nov. 1, that’s tough. You try and bring it out of them one last time, but you have assistants who are worried about where they’re going to work next year. You’ve got players who want to know who is going to be the coach. That’s a terrible thing.”
If things had been different, that the decision to not retain the staff hadn’t been announced, the 2011 game would have been more competitive.
“I really felt like we could have won that game if had been different, I really do,” Nutt said.
This year’s matchup between the No. 4 Bulldogs and No. 19 Rebels has been highly anticipated by both fan bases. Nutt said that MSU, which is looking to win 11 games for the first time in school history, can’t just roll in and expect to win.
“They just can’t come to Oxford and throw their helmets out there because they’re the No. 4 in the country,” Nutt said. “I think Dan Mullen and their players understand that they’re going up against a very good team, one of the top teams on defense that has created turnovers better than anyone all year long. Ole Miss has had some tough injuries, but this is going to be a tough, tough game. Even though Ole Miss has lost the last couple of games, Mississippi State knows they’re in for a real fight.”
Several of the Rebels’ leaders and players who are having great seasons on the field were recruited by Nutt and his staff. Senquez Golson is second in the nation with nine interceptions, while safety Cody Prewitt is second on the team with 58 tackles. Nutt said he was proud of those players and what they have achieved this season.
“You look at the players like DT Shackelford, Senquez Golson, Serderius Bryant, CJ Johnson, Cody Prewitt, Aaron Morris, Vince Sanders, the ones that have been there a while, they’re going to lay it on the line without question,” Nutt said. “I said at that last press conference I had and the one thing I told everybody that was there is that it’s not going to be long. We knew that we had recruited very, very well. The problem was Senquez Golson had to play as a freshman. Aaron Morris, CJ Johnson, DT, had to play as freshmen.
Whenever you play quite a bit of freshmen in the SEC, it’s going to be hard times. Plus there was quarterback problems,” Nutt added. “Hugh Freeze did a good job of adding to that, but if you look at it, the backbone of this team, the heart and soul, are the guys that have been scarred. They are the guys that went through the fire, and they have gone through the fire. I’m very proud of them. I understand that every one of them are going to graduate or have graduated. I know they’re good in that locker room and I know they’re good kids.”