Notes and thoughts from a 38-27 win over Mississippi State. …
The Egg Bowl that seemed destined to be a high-scoring nail biter was high-scoring for only one team and really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Ultimately you are what your numbers say you are, and the numbers say Ole Miss outgained MSU 479-402.
As the game got out of hand so quickly you could see how the end would unfold with MSU forcing the issue in tempo offense, and Ole Miss letting the Bulldogs have just as much of the field as they wanted – including the end zone – as long as they didn’t score quickly and with big plays.
That’s exactly what happened.
After Jordan Wilkins’ reestablished the Rebels’ 25-point halftime lead – It was 38-13 with 13:22 to play – State went on to tack on two touchdowns but needed nine- and 10-play drives to score.
The final outcome might have been closer than 11 points if State had recovered the onside kick, but even then there wasn’t enough time for the Bulldogs to make Ole Miss sweat the end result as Alabama did in Tuscaloosa in Week 3.
The Bulldogs finished with 402 yards, a respectable figure, but had a paltry 263 yards after three quarters. MSU ran 19 plays for 139 yards in the fourth quarter.
Wilkins’ touchdown run was huge as it negated the Bulldogs’ quick 10-point swing to open the third.
The last thing Ole Miss needed coming out of halftime was early success and confidence for MSU, and that’s exactly what the Bulldogs gained.
The Rebels were comfortably ahead, 28-3, at the break and set to receive the second-half kick. However, they went three-and-out with an incomplete pass in the mix and got only net gain in field position of 22 yards on the punt.
Dak Prescott got the Bulldogs into the end zone five plays later, and while Ole Miss had gotten the ball to start the third it had taken a little more than 3 minutes to see the Rebels’ lead trimmed by seven.
The Rebels were able to drive to the MSU 14 on their next possession, but Gary Wunderlich missed his second field goal of the night.
What followed was a red zone stand for Ole Miss. State marched to the 10 without much resistance but Dak threw three incomplete passes, and MSU settled for a field goal.
Would another seven there have changed things? Probably not, but it would certainly have changed the feel and flow of the game, maybe the play-calling on each side, and then who knows? It would likely have made for a more stressful finish for Ole Miss.
The Rebels’ fast start set the tone in this game, and they didn’t cough up that good fortune by coughing up the football.
Ole Miss finished plus-2 in turnover margin on the night, and both of those turnovers came in the first quarter.
Maybe Dak Prescott was pressing a little bit, maybe not. He had the Bulldogs on the move across the 50 and into Ole Miss territory on their first possession when Ole Miss linebacker DeMarquis Gates forced a fumble.
The second Dak turnover was the result of a relentless pass rush he would face most of the evening. He was flushed out of the pocket and running right when he threw the pick that Tony Bridges returned 45 yards for a score.
CJ Johnson and Dave Wommack would later tell us that Ole Miss gained a lot in preparation by watching Alabama’s 31-6 win in Starkville.
Watching the Alabama video was great, but it didn’t mean the Rebels would be able duplicate the Tide’s sack success against MSU.
Sacks are what Alabama does. The Tide went into the weekend leading the SEC with 3.45 sacks a game, while Ole Miss was 10th and 90th in the nation at 1.73.
Yes, there’s been good defensive line play for the Rebels this year, but seven sacks almost doubled their previous best of four sacks against New Mexico State. The Rebels’ previous SEC best was three sacks at Auburn.
The Ole Miss secondary that I thought would be a weakness in this game had some big plays, but Prescott still completed 73.8 percent of his attempts. It underscores what might have been without the pass rush he felt.
The fact that Ole Miss would pressure Prescott to that level was about as unexpected as the idea that he would turn it over twice, and the Rebels would lead 21-0 in the first quarter.
You’ve all seen games where one team gets out to the big lead early then sweats the finish. Ole Miss answered the Bulldogs’ biggest second-half push and did it by making plays and using clock on offense, not with a couple of big plays – one after a turnover – as it did against Alabama.
The Ole Miss run game was huge. The Rebels finished with 243 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
It was an SEC rushing high for Ole Miss and the third time in five games with Laremy Tunsil at left tackle that the Rebels have surpassed 200 rushing yards. Coincidence? No.
I mentioned during the week that Chad Kelly was Ole Miss’ chance to win in Starkville. The Rebels needed Kelly to maintain the high level of play he’d shown at the end of the season, and he did just that.
So many folks offered the idea during the week that it would be oh so hard for Ole Miss to be Dak Prescott on his senior night. Kelly out-played Prescott and won the game, finishing with 310 yards of total offense. That’s not the best he’s been – He had 236 passing and 74 rushing – but he didn’t turn the ball over. That was his main difference from Dak and the difference in the game.
Kelly was turnover-free for a third straight game and has now thrown 105 straight passes without an interception. That’s a hot streak for a guy who’s thrown 12 picks this year.
It wasn’t only Kelly in the run game, though. Jaylen Walton had a big night, finishing with 93 net yards and 5.8 yards per carry.
That gives Walton 241 rushing yards in his last two Egg Bowls.
It’s on to bowl speculation now, and we’ll see what awaits, possibly the Sugar, although Sugar Bowl reps were not in attendance last night. That could be a sign.
Hugh Freeze lobbied for a New Year’s Six bowl last night, and the Rebels’ finish justifies that type of lofty destination.
The Class of 13 will begin to depart after the bowl game and will do so without an SEC championship game appearance, but you can’t get closer than this group did without getting there.
The 2015 season will forever be remembered for how Ole Miss was a fluke lateral on a fourth-and-25 against Arkansas from getting to Atlanta.
It should also be remembered for how Tunsil, Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell, Kelly and others helped the Rebels get off the mat and win four out of five SEC West games – two of them on the road – after an embarrassing performance at Memphis.