OXFORD — In two seasons at Mississippi State, Dan Mullen has earned a reputation across the Magnolia State as a brash-talking coach who never misses an opportunity to needle “The School Up North.”
And after winning the Egg Bowl trophy for the second straight season on Saturday, Mullen’s also earning the reputation that his team can back up the rhetoric.
“We’ve got a real nice trophy case for it,” Mullen said. “and we’re going to put it back where it belongs.”
Chris Relf threw for a career-high 288 yards and three touchdowns as No. 25 Mississippi State beat Mississippi 31-23, dominating early and then holding on late for the Bulldogs’ first win in Oxford since 1998.
After the game, MSU’s players circled Vaught-Hemingway Stadium exchanging hugs and high-fives with the considerable amount of Bulldog fans celebrating in the stands. MSU is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007 and only the second time in a decade.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” MSU linebacker Chris White said. “I just don’t see how it can possibly feel better than this.”
The Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) dominated for most of the 107th meeting between the two teams, with a 498-326 advantage in total yards. But Ole Miss (4-8, 1-7) nearly rallied from a 31-9 fourth quarter deficit, scoring two touchdowns to pull within 31-23 with 4:21 remaining.
The Rebels’ comeback ended when Jeremiah Masoli desperately scrambled for several seconds before being sacked on fourth-and-24 with 59.4 seconds remaining.
Mississippi State’s LaDarius Perkins caught three passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. The freshman also rushed for 98 yards on 13 carries.
As usual, the Bulldogs’ were steady on the ground, rushing for 210 yards. But the potent passing game was a pleasant surprise, as Relf completed 13 of 20 passes. He also added 66 rushing yards.
“Chris did a good job of managing the game,” Mullen said. “Their plan was to take away the run. They were daring us to throw the ball and we did.”
The road team has won only twice in the past 12 years of the series.
Masoli, who ended a disappointing senior season in Oxford after transferring from Oregon over the summer, led Ole Miss with 261 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception.
The scene in Oxford was far different than two years ago, when Ole Miss destroyed MSU 45-0, a humiliating defeat that helped send then-coach Sylvester Croom packing.
It’s another indication of just how far the Bulldogs have come under second-year coach Dan Mullen, who has added some spice to the rivalry with his refusal to call the Rebels by anything other than “The School up North,” referring to Ole Miss’ location some 100 miles north and west of Mississippi State’s campus.
Some of the Ole Miss players said they felt disrespected by Mullen’s comments. But they couldn’t do anything about it on the field.
That’s mostly because the defense gave up big plays with regularity — a trait that’s haunted it all season.
MSU blitzed the Rebels for gains of 71, 44, 33 and 36 yards in the second quarter, helping the Bulldogs turn a 6-0 deficit into a 21-9 halftime lead.
For Ole Miss, it was an another tough loss in a season full of them. It started with a shocking loss to Jacksonville State, a team that plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and ended with their hated arch-rival celebrating on their home turf after dominating in nearly all facets.
Though the Rebels expected somewhat of a rebuilding season, the complete freefall has been shocking. Coach Houston Nutt won nine games and back-to-back Cotton Bowls in his first two seasons, but tied with Vanderbilt for the worst record in the SEC this season, beating only Kentucky.
“The only thing I know is to go back to work,” Nutt said. “We expected it to be a tough year, but we didn’t expect this.”
Ole Miss’ Brandon Bolden caught six passes for 78 yards and also rushed for a team-high 45 yards and a touchdown. The Rebels, which came into the game as the No. 2 rushing team in the SEC, gained just 65 yards on the ground.
“We tried to do a good job of mixing pressure and coverage,” MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. “Masoli is a great player, but I thought we stopped their run and that made them one dimensional. That was the key.”
25 MISSISSIPPI ST. 31, OLE MISS 23
Mississippi St. 0 21 10 0—31
Ole Miss 6 3 0 14—23
OM – J.Scott 16 run (kick blocked), 3:28.
MSSt – C.Smith 15 pass from Relf (DePasquale kick), 13:09.
OM – FG Rose 34, 10:03.
MSSt – Perkins 33 pass from Relf (DePasquale kick), 8:53.
MSSt – Perkins 36 pass from Relf (DePasquale kick), :42.
MSSt – FG DePasquale 42, 11:11.
MSSt – Ballard 8 run (DePasquale kick), 2:49.
OM – Bolden 10 run (Rose kick), 13:22.
OM – Logan 24 pass from Masoli (Rose kick), 4:21.
A – 58,625.
First downs 18 19
Rushes-yards 50-210 35-65
Passing 288 261
Comp-Att-Int 13-20-1 24-44-1
Return Yards 19 8
Punts-Avg. 6-42.8 8-47.3
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 3-25 5-45
Time of Possession 31:31 28:29
RUSHING – Mississippi St., Perkins 13-98, Relf 12-66, Ballard 22-43, Heavens 1-5, Team 2-(minus 2). Ole Miss, Bolden 12-45, J.Scott 6-12, Masoli 11-12, E.Davis 5-0, Grandy 1-(minus 4).
PASSING – Mississippi St., Relf 13-20-1-288. Ole Miss, Masoli 24-44-1-261.
RECEIVING – Mississippi St., C.Smith 4-41, Perkins 3-140, Ballard 2-22, Heavens 2-19, Bumphis 1-44, Clark 1-22. Ole Miss, Bolden 6-78, Logan 4-59, Summers 4-48, J.Scott 4-30, Grandy 4-29, Neat 1-9, Greer 1-8.
Click view slideshow link below photo above on the left to see photos from the game.
Read all about the game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
David Brandt/The Associated Press