When the regular season finale rolls around in the state of Mississippi, throw the season records out the window. They simply don’t matter. The only thing that matters is who finishes with the Egg Bowl trophy in hand.
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke knows the importance of this game–as he has both coached and played in the Egg Bowl. If the Rebels take the trophy back to Oxford, they will do so with a 6-6 record, finishing the season at .500–far better than many have predicted.
“It’s always been a big game for us as long as I can remember. To the people of the state of Mississippi, this is bragging rights. It’s a huge game and it is every year, no matter the situation.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke on the meaning of the Egg Bowl
Here are three keys for the Rebels to win in Starkville:
1. Defense MSU’s running attack
The Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3) are third in the Southeastern Conference in rushing yards (2,701). MSU is averaging 245.55 yards per game, while averaging 5.22 yards per attempt. For the season, the Rebels are giving up 240.9 yards per game on the ground.
Matt Luke realizes stopping the run will be the key.
“They do a great job of running the football,” Luke said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with, so we have our work cut out going there and stopping the run and forcing them to throw it.”
If defensive linemen Breeland Speaks, Josiah Coatney, Marquis Haynes and Benito Jones can get off their blocks and make contact with State’s running backs at the line of scrimmage, the Rebels will be in this game.
Additionally, MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is the league’s best running quarterback. He’s accounted for 29 touchdowns this season–63% of State’s scoring this year. For Ole Miss to emerge victorious, the Rebels will need to keep a spy on Fitzgerald the entire game.
2. Protect Jordan Ta’amu
In Ole Miss’ loss to Texas A&M, junior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was sacked three times. When Ta’amu is protected in the pocket, he’s deadly with the Rebels’ talented receivers around him.
If the Ole Miss offensive line can give Ta’amu time to throw to A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge, and Dawson Knox, as well as open holes for running back Jordan Wilkins, the Rebels have a real shot of moving the chains and winning this game.
3. Can Jordan Wilkins gain 99 yards?
Speaking of Wilkins, the senior running back Jordan Wilkins needs just 99 yards to reach 1,000 yards on the season. If Wilkins can leave Starkville with 99 or more, he would bust the thousand-yard mark for only the seventh time in school history–and the first since Dexter McCluster did so in 2009.
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)