Egg Bowl on the line for Ole Miss, Mississippi St.
JACKSON, Miss. (AP)Mississippi defensive tackle Jerrell Powe went home last Christmas break and talked - a lot - about the Rebels' 45-0 win over Mississippi State.
He also went home during spring break and over the summer, talking a little more. There was so much to reminisce about, after all. His team had recorded a record 11 sacks. And then there was Powe's role in that relentless pursuit of the quarterback, finishing with 1.5 sacks and an interception in his breakout game.
All that talk means one thing: Powe needs the No. 20 Rebels to win the Egg Bowl on Saturday.
"There's definitely a lot of motivation because I was talking a lot of trash," he joked.
Powe isn't the only one talking about the most important game within the game as the Rebels (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) and Bulldogs (4-7, 2-5) meet for the 106th time. Just like last season, the outcome likely hinges on how well Mississippi State's offensive line can handle Ole Miss' defensive front.
It was a knockout last season with the Rebels hurrying and hitting Bulldogs quarterbacks nearly every time they dropped back to pass in the most lopsided loss in 37 years.
"It was awful," Mississippi State center J.C. Brignone said. "(We) kind of started pointing fingers. But that was last year. That was the old team. This is the new team and a new offensive line as a whole. That's why we worked so hard this summer picking up our stuff and getting to know each other and feeling each other. You can see we've done so well."
Under first-year coach Dan Mullen Mississippi State's offensive line has transformed itself from a lumbering liability into a lean unit that clears the way for the nation's No. 12 rushing attack. And the Bulldogs have cut their sacks allowed per game in half from three to 1.6.
Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett can see the difference in film study and it's pretty simple. He noted the Bulldogs rushed 55 times last week at Arkansas and threw just 13.
"They tried to pass a lot (last season) and we were just coming through and taking advantage of their weaknesses," Lockett said. "But now when you watch film, they don't throw the ball as much. So we might not get as many chances as we did last year to get that pass rush and to get that sack."
The line was dominant against the run, too. And even though the Rebels have lost Peria Jerry to the NFL and Greg Hardy to injury, the line remains one of the nation's best. Ole Miss is first in the SEC in tackles for loss (7.6) and sacks (2.9) per game and the line fuels the nation's No. 19 defense.
If Ole Miss can put together another feeding frenzy like last year's, the Rebels will likely clinch second in the SEC West and No. 3 overall in the league, guaranteeing the prime pick of non-BCS bowls, and the first consecutive nine-win seasons since 1961-62.
"It was definitely good for the defensive line, especially when you see a defensive lineman get a sack," Powe said. "You can be the most tired person in the game, but the next play you feel like it was your first play. It was big to see guys on the defensive line make sack after sack."