Masoli, Rebels want big win vs. Mississippi State
When Jeremiah Masoli arrived on Mississippi's campus nearly four months ago, the quarterback was considered a football savior who was the key to leading the Rebels to their third straight bowl game.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Ole Miss won't be going to a bowl after a string of excruciating defeats cemented a losing season. In fact, the Rebels have just one Southeastern Conference victory to show for the Masoli era. Only one chance remains for the quarterback to salvage something positive: The Egg Bowl.
''Since the first day I got here on my trip, the one thing I've heard from people is, 'Take care of Mississippi State,''' Masoli said.
He will get his chance to fulfill that request on Saturday, when Ole Miss (4-7, 1-6 SEC) hosts No. 25 Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The location is good news for the Rebels, considering the home team has won 10 of the past 11 games in the series.
For Masoli, it's the last time to leave a good impression.
''It's key - not just for my legacy but our seniors,'' Masoli said. ''It hasn't been a great year, but we can bounce back with a win.''
Masoli transferred from Oregon to Ole Miss just before preseason camp started in August, bringing his considerable talent and considerable baggage to Oxford. The good news was Masoli had led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl in 2009 and was regarded as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. The bad news was his coach Chip Kelly kicked him off the team after two run-ins with police in six months.
At Ole Miss, Masoli hasn't had any off-the-field trouble. But his team has run into plenty of it on the field.
Masoli has had a decent season, throwing for 1,778 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He's also rushed for 532 yards and six touchdowns - good numbers considering he had less than a month to learn the offense after he arrived. Ole Miss has averaged more than 31 points per game, which ranks in the middle of the SEC.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen knows his defense will have its hands full.
''The challenge he brings to the table is he's played a lot of football,'' Mullen said. ''He's played in a Rose Bowl and won a conference championship. He knows how to win big games and plays his best in big games. He's a player who can carry a team and he's shown that during his career.''
Masoli might be able to carry the offense, but defense is something he can't control. And frankly, the Rebels aren't very good at it.
Ole Miss has given up 35.5 points per game this season, easily the worst mark in the SEC. Mississippi State's option offense tore the Rebels apart last season in a 41-27 loss, but defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said his team learned a lot of lessons from that game and will be better prepared.
''I think we've got some guys who are playing fundamentally sound and who have got their eyes in the right place,'' Powe said. ''We've struggled with consistency all season long, but I think some guys are starting to be more consistent.''
Mississippi State would love nothing more than to make Masoli's finale a miserable experience. The Bulldogs have had a renaissance season in their second year under Mullen, but have lost two games in a row, including last weekend's 38-31 double-overtime loss to Arkansas.
''It wears on you physically and emotionally as a team,'' Mullen said. ''But I think this game, this week allowed us to put last week's game behind us much faster and get ready to go. We want to protect our trophy so we can keep it another year.''