By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – If you’re like me, you’re having trouble focusing on matchups and trends and Xs and Os – you know, the relevant stuff.
But hey, it’s Egg Bowl Week, when ancient history and bad blood and a shiny trophy obscure facts and reason. MSU coach Dan Mullen likes to poke Ole Miss in the ribs, the Rebels take offense, trash talk among the fans heats up – it’s pretty much a carnival of delightful chaos.
And ultimately, it means nothing.
I’m not trying to diminish the inherent emotion and irrational hatred that arises when the Bulldogs and Rebels meet. I fully understand the tribal animus that’s been part of the human condition since the dawn of time, that once manifested itself in the form of endemic warfare.
I think this rivalry, though, is more like tinku. You know, the Andean tradition of opposing communities getting together to drink and party and then brutally fight each other. That about sums it up.
Back to my point: The game Saturday in Oxford will ultimately come down to execution, and I’m sorry if I sound like a boring old coach, but sometimes the truth is boring (which is why lies and hyperbole flourish).
If you’re Ole Miss, that’s a concern. Sure, you played a swell game at LSU last week, but that Tigers defense isn’t really as good as folks think, and now you’re without big receiver Melvin Harris.
Jeremiah Masoli and Brandon Bolden. That’s what you’re going to have to win with.
Because as colleague Parrish Alford pointed out Wednesday, the Rebels will need to put up lots of points to win, because their defense is no good. MSU’s defense is very good.
The Bulldogs have given up 68 points over their last two games, but that was against Alabama and Arkansas, a couple of highly ranked teams with numerous offensive weapons.
Nevertheless, there is reason for concern. A losing streak is a losing streak, and it’s hard to be confident when you’ve given up big play after big play.
And if there’s one thing Masoli and Co. can do, it’s hit big plays. Masoli has had four pass plays and one rushing play of 50-plus yards, while Bolden has had three runs of 50-plus yards.
A shootout doesn’t necessarily favor Ole Miss. MSU can put the points up against sub-par defenses, as it did last week, and we all remember how State’s option run game gave the Rebels fits last year.
In fairness, they were expecting Tyson Lee more than Chris Relf. But Relf is now more experienced, more of a passing threat, and still has a really good tailback to hand it to in Vick Ballard.
Ole Miss knows it needs to stop the run, but whether it can is another story.
Same goes for MSU. Ole Miss ranks second in the SEC in rushing, one spot ahead of State.
Hope I didn’t put you to sleep with all that cold, dispassionate analysis. Because that’s not what makes this rivalry fun, is it?
Of course not. It’s why Mullen plays it up so much, why fans engage in (ahem) repartees on the message boards, why people mock complete strangers simply for the color of their apparel.
It’s a rivarly, and emotion rules. Each program’s collective self-esteem is tucked inside that battered old trophy, the winner proudly holding it up all year, the loser promising revenge and future glory while simultaneously trying to downplay the immediate past.
Mullen insists it’s not just another game. He’s right, and he’s wrong. It’s special for obvious reasons, but in the end, it’s like every other game in that the team with better focus and execution will be the victor.
This has felt like a long week already, and frankly, all the hype has quickly grown tiresome, as it does every year.
Let’s just play some football already.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.