Richie Brown quietly took a lap around the field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
While his teammates were celebrating Mississippi State’s 55-20 domination of Ole Miss in the 89th edition of the Battle of the Golden Egg, the former Long Beach standout and Bulldog linebacker was almost in a somber mood.
Although the Bulldogs made a statement with their rout of the Rebels, with a 5-7 overall mark, there’s no guaranteed tomorrow for the Egg Bowl winners. The win does keep MSU’s postseason hopes alive if there aren’t enough six-win teams to fill bowl allotments, but nothing is definitive. The Bulldogs now fall into a pecking order according to APR and won’t know until next week if they’re bowl bound or not.
Brown was fully aware of his now murky future at MSU when he sought out his wife, Erin Brown, in the crowd after the win, MSU’s first in the series since 2013. They shared a moment behind the MSU bench, with Erin, tears in her eyes, reaching down for her husband over the brick facade.
It was the calm in an otherwise maroon-and-white — and now gold — storm.
“I’m not quite sure how to act right now,” said Brown, who recorded four tackles. “It’s potentially our last game right now but I don’t really know. And then there’s questions all up in the air: Is it my last game? Regular season game for sure. I mean, it was a really surreal moment.”
The Bulldogs made several statements Saturday. For starters, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams ran wild on the Rebels (5-7, 2-6), combining for 449 yards and four rushing touchdowns. Fitzgerald also threw for 109 yards and three touchdowns passing.
The two combined for scoring plays of 16, 8, 13, 24, 38, 61 and 30 yards.
“I think you could kind of see it at halftime that the team that made more plays was going to win the game,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “Fortunately for us, in the second half we went back and forth a little bit. We made a couple more plays than they did and that ended up being the difference in the game.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs smothered Ole Miss’ offense after surrendering 20 points in the first half.
Ole Miss scored on 24- and 38-yard field goals by Gary Wunderlich, and touchdown passes of 19 and 25 yards from Shea Patterson to Damore’ea Stringfellow.
Then that was it.
Patterson had success early, extending drives with his legs, but the running lanes disappeared in the second half.
“I think we just got the hang of their quarterback. He was making some plays by playing backyard football. Some runs were popping here and there,” Brown said of Patterson, who finished with 320 yards and two touchdowns passing along with 73 yards rushing. “It wasn’t anything terrible once we figured out our fits and figured out how to keep him in the pocket and contain him and plaster their receivers when he’s doing that, I think that settled us down.”
The game’s final score came on a 74-yard pick-six from Cedric Jiles on a bobbled pass to running back Akeem Judd. Jiles snatched the ball out of the air and had to weave his way the length of the field for the long score.
Mullen said Jiles’ touchdown with 2:59 remaining finally gave him a chance to breath easy.
“One of the things you worry (about) is they can score pretty fast,” Mullen said. “The way our year has gone. … You look at our sidelines and I’m paranoid as a coach. I’m sure everybody out there is like, ‘oh, they got it,’ but I’m paranoid. I’m like, ‘keep playing, keep playing.’
“Strange things happen out there in football games.”
Fitzgerald’s 258 yards rushing gave Fitzgerald 1,243 yards on the season, making him the fifth quarterback in SEC history to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season. His total also set MSU’s single-game rushing record.
“The problem is he gets the ball in the open field and has the potential to hit the home run,” Mullen said. “A lot of his runs, we had a couple designed quarterback runs but most of them were just zone-read options; they gave him the read to run it and he did. … When he got in the open field he made big plays happen.”
End of an era
Ole Miss announced prior to the game that long-time defensive coordinator Dave Wommack — Hugh Freeze’s only DC with the Rebels — is retiring.
Freeze told media post-game he’s “not that far along” in finding Wommack’s replacement.
“It is time for him to enjoy some time and then for me to figure out which direction to go next,” Freeze said. “First step will be to get the guy you want to coordinate and then we will go on from there.”