No. 18 Mississippi State gears up for Egg Bowl vs. Ole Miss

Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (7) passes against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium.Photo Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No one has to tell Ole Miss head football coach Matt Luke what it means to win the Battle for the Golden Egg.

Luke’s been a Rebel since birth, growing up in Gulfport, and he was an offensive lineman for Old Miss from 1995-1998.

“It’s huge for the people of Mississippi. It always has been. It’s a game that means so much (for) so many people,” Luke said. “It’s 365-day bragging rights. It’s always been important in my family ever since I can remember. This is not my second egg bowl, it’s my 42nd.”

Even though he is in his first year at Mississippi State, head coach Joe Moorhead also understands what it means to win or lose a rivalry game.

“This game as all of the ingredients of what makes college football and a great rivalry special,” Moorhead said. “Two great opponents, proximity, familiarity, tradition, history. Really, quite frankly and most importantly, a lot of players from the state who have played with or against each other. I think that’s what makes this game unique and special.”

So the stage is set for a Thanksgiving battle for the coveted egg in Oxford.

Ole Miss will host Mississippi State in the 115th meeting between the two schools dating back to 1901. The Rebels own a 64-44-6 advantage, though the series is tied 10-10 in the last 20 meetings.

Mississippi State erupted for 52 points against Arkansas on, marking its fourth game of 45 or more points of the year. The Bulldogs moved up three spots to No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings after their latest offensive outburst.

The Rebels (5-6, 1-6 Southeastern Conference) come into this year’s Egg Bowl on a four-game losing streak and maybe a bit discouraged after a touchdown reversal and losing in overtime to Vanderbilt.

“Bouncing back from a tough loss Saturday, you really don’t have a choice,” Luke said. “You have a short week to prepare for Mississippi State, a huge rivalry game. It will be a huge game for these seniors, one last home game. Last game in Vaught-Hemingway and our last game together. It will be a huge night and big challenge on a short week against a very good football team.”

When the Bulldogs (7-4, 3-4) are good, they’ve been very good. And when they’ve struggled, they … have not been very good. Mississippi State has scored 45 points or more four times and for them to beat their archrival, Moorhead says they have to “have the ability to be explosive, convert on third downs and limit turnovers.”

What has been stellar throughout has been the Bulldogs defense, which has allowed only 12.8 points per game, the second lowest amount in FBS.

The defense should be tested by Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who ranks second in the FBS with 3,831 passing yards. A.J. Brown is his favorite target and ranks fifth in the nations with 81 receptions, 1,259 yards and six touchdowns.

DaMarkus Lodge enters the game with 62 receptions, 823 yards and six touchdowns.

Ta’amu is surrounded by players from Mississippi, 35 dot the Rebels roster. The importance of this game to his teammates is not something Ta’amu takes lightly.

“We don’t have this kind of rivalry thing back home (in Hawaii),” Ta’amu told the Oxford Eagle. “I know it’s huge for the other guys around here. I know it’s huge for the coaches and fans”.

“If it’s huge to them it’s huge to me. I’m going treat it like I was raised in Mississippi. I treat it like this is my home.”

You could say the same for Georgia native and Ta’amu’s Mississippi State counterpart Nick Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald is the key for Mississippi State. The senior quarterback is the team’s leading rusher with 1,088 yards and 10 touchdowns. As a passer he is completing nearly 52 percent of his passes for 1,504 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Ole Miss has one glaring weakness — the Rebels have the worst run defense in the conference. The Bulldogs have the second-best rushing offense. Look for Moorhead and Fitzgerald to exploit that weakness.

“You can win games by running the ball well, but to win championships you have to be balanced,” Moorhead said.

Balanced mentally is equally important.

“Sometimes this season we’ve gotten wrapped up playing with too much emotion,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to play with emotion without being emotional.”

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