No. 25 Bulldogs, Rebels set for Egg Bowl rivalry

There’s much at stake in this year’s Egg Bowl.

No. 25 Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) is
trying to win four in a row in the rivalry for the first time since
the 1940s when the teams meet on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway
Stadium. Mississippi (5-6, 2-5) is one victory away from bowl
eligibility for the first time since 2009.

Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen said what makes the rivalry so special
is there aren’t many areas of the Magnolia State that are dominated
by one of the two fan bases. Instead, there are Bulldogs and Rebels
sprinkled together in almost every city.

There’s no avoiding the other group.

”It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor (rivalry), which makes it an even
bigger game,” Mullen said.

First-year Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze is well of aware of the
demographics.

He grew up outside of Senatobia, Miss., which is about a
45-minute drive from Oxford, and his personal experience with the
rivalry is longstanding.

And he badly wants the Golden Egg to make a return to
Oxford.

”I actually have family members that are on the other side,”
Freeze said. ”I have great respect for some coaches down there,
also. I won’t get into the name calling. We have great respect for
them. We want to beat them as bad as they want to beat us. I
understand the impact it has on the program, our fans and the
people of this state. We’re going to go about it the right way and
try to beat them that badly on Saturday.”

Ole Miss might love a lopsided win, but oddsmakers see the game
as a close one, giving the Rebels a slight edge.

Mississippi State recovered from a three-game losing streak last
weekend by beating Arkansas 45-14 in Starkville. The Bulldogs are
led by quarterback Tyler Russell, who has thrown for 2,503 yards
and 21 touchdowns and already owns several single-season passing
records.

The Rebels will counter with an undersized but speedy defense
that is second in the SEC with 31 sacks. Linebacker Denzel
Nkemdiche is the poster child, a 5-foot-11, 203-pound redshirt
freshman who leads the Rebels with 12 tackles for a loss.

”They have a really good defense,” Russell said. ”We have to
go play. I feel like if we do the things we need to do, we will
take care of business. If not, we won’t.”

The issue for Ole Miss has been playing four good quarters. The
Rebels have had a late lead against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and
LSU this season, but let all three games get away.

There are certainly valid excuses for the late breakdowns. Ole
Miss is young in several spots and doesn’t have much depth.

But players say those shortcomings shouldn’t matter, especially
when it comes to the Egg Bowl and earning a chance at the
postseason.

”We’re definitely ready,” Ole Miss offensive lineman Emmanuel
McCray said. ”We have a lot of coaches that played for the
university, so they have the same passion … It’s a little more
intense, but it’s still calm. You don’t want to be
overemotional.”

Even though he’s from the northeast, Mullen has always been
passionate about the rivalry during his four years in Mississippi.
He’s seen firsthand how it can hit close to home.

His neighbor in Starkville is an Ole Miss fan. And when Mullen’s
3-year-old went to visit his friends next door last week, Canon
Mullen was rooting for ”The School Up North.”

Albeit against LSU.

Canon and the neighbor’s children were all watching SEC football
like a lot of kids in this state and several were rooting for the
Rebels to beat the Tigers.

”Since we lost to LSU the week before, he was not real high on
LSU at that point,” Mullen said with a grin. ”He wouldn’t mind
seeing them lose.”

But that’ll change Saturday. Now it’s the Rebels who are the
enemy.

Follow David Brandt on Twitter:
www.twitter.comd/davidbrandtAP