MOTIVATING FACTOR: Egg Bowl means ‘everything’ to Rebels, Mississippi State
Chad Kelly grew up more than 900 miles from Mississippi, and his familiarity with the tradition and passion woven into the state’s most bitter college football rivalry seems even more distant than that.
“I’m just a kid from Buffalo who never hears a cowbell in Buffalo,” Kelly said, referencing his New York hometown when the subject of Mississippi State’s loudest game ritual is brought up.
But most of the Rebels’ quarterback’s teammates call Mississippi home, and that’s not lost on him. Kelly said he’s ready to experience first-hand what those in his own locker room are trying their best to convey — Saturday’s meeting between No. 19 Ole Miss and No. 23 Mississippi State (6:15 p.m., ESPN2) is no ordinary game.
“It means everything,” Kelly said. “Being around here the past nine, 10 months in Oxford, this is the biggest game of the year to get out there in front of a big-time crowd.”
More than pride and bragging rights could be on the line in this year’s Egg Bowl depending on what happens between Auburn and Alabama, which will play earlier in the day. An Auburn upset coupled with an Ole Miss win over the Bulldogs would put the Rebels (8-3, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) in the SEC Championship Game.
But the only thing the Rebels can control is what happens in Starkville, a place they haven’t won since Eli Manning’s senior season in 2003. It’s been a series dominated recently by the team playing in its own stadium with Mississippi State’s 31-23 win in Oxford in 2010 being the only time the visitors have won in the last 11 meetings.
“The stands are going to be packed out and the (Mississippi State) fans are going to rally behind their team,” Ole Miss safety Chief Brown said. “It’s going to be a really tough environment for us. Probably the toughest all year.”
For Ole Miss to have a shot to end the decade-long misery at Davis Wade Stadium, the defense will have to do something it’s struggled to do all season and contain a potent Bulldog passing attack behind senior quarterback Dak Prescott, who’s thrown for 3,159 yards and 23 touchdowns for the SEC’s second-ranked passing offense.
A lot of points?
Arkansas is the only team in the SEC that’s given up more passing yards than the Rebels, who have surrendered at least 270 yards through the air in six different games. Prescott’s ability to tuck it and run could make it even more of a chore for Ole Miss to contain the Bulldogs, who can attack any part of the field with their spread offense.
Prescott has added 478 yards and nine scores on the ground.
“They spread you from sideline to sideline and give (Prescott) a lot of options once the ball is snapped,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
The only quarterback who’s been more prolific in the SEC than Prescott is Kelly, whose 3,504 passing yards and 25 touchdown tosses are tops in the league. The wide-open offenses and little resistance against them could make for a game that won’t be decided until the final possession in a meeting between two of the four highest-scoring offenses in the league.
“I wouldn’t say a shootout,” wideout Laquon Treadwell said. “It’s going to be a great game though. High intensity. They’re going to be flying around. We’re going to be flying around. It’s going to be a great rivalry game.”
From the outsiders on the roster who have been thrown into the rivalry since their arrival in Oxford to the Mississippians who have grown up in it, all any of them want is one more point than the Bulldogs.
“(Linebacker C.J. Johnson) has already said a couple of things in the locker room, but it’s all out of fun,” said defensive back Mike Hilton, a Georgia native. “We know he’s ready. We’re going to feel the same.”