Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze’s pregame analysis of this weekend’s Egg Bowl is pretty straightforward.
Both teams are good on offense. Both have been pretty bad on defense.
So when Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5 SEC) travels to face Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5) on Saturday for their annual rivalry game, Freeze feels that no lead will be safe.
“They’ve given up yards and points, as have we, and we’ve got to be sure that we’re scoring touchdowns in the red zone when we get those opportunities, because it seems, as you watch them and you watch us, that it could easily be who scores the most touchdowns,” Freeze said.
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The statistics certainly back Freeze’s assessment.
Mississippi State has given up a combined 109 points over the past two weeks in back-to-back losses to Alabama and Arkansas . The Bulldogs are giving up more than 34 points per game, which is the worst mark in the SEC.
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon said the problems are simple to see, but so far have been hard to fix.
“It is execution and tackling,” Sirmon said. “That’s really the roots of playing defensive football. There are no magic calls. It’s about execution. We need the defense to behave the way the defense is designed to behave.”
Ole Miss isn’t much better on defense. The Rebels are coming off a game where they gave up 38 points in a loss to Vanderbilt and have surrendered a little more than 32 points per game, which ranks 12th in the 14-team SEC.
Ole Miss can earn bowl eligibility for a fifth straight season if it wins on Saturday. That would be the school’s longest streak since 15 straight appearances from 1957-71.
Ole Miss freshman quarterback Shea Patterson will be making his third career start on Saturday. Patterson was expected to redshirt this season, but was pushed into action when senior Chad Kelly went down with a season-ending knee injury against Georgia Southern on Nov. 5. Patterson has had mixed success in two games, throwing for 560 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram has been one of the league’s most productive receivers all season, catching 65 passes for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. But the senior is dealing with a hamstring injury and might not be able to play in the Egg Bowl. Freeze said Engram would play if there’s “any way possible.”
Ole Miss will be without junior linebacker DeMarquis Gates in the first half of the Egg Bowl because he was ejected for targeting during the second half of the Vanderbilt game. It’s a big loss for the Rebels considering Gates has been one of the team’s few consistent options at linebacker this season. He leads the team with 75 tackles.
The home team has won 10 out of the past 12 meetings in the Egg Bowl dating back to 2004. The only exceptions in the trend were in 2010 when Mississippi State won 31-23 in Oxford and last year when Ole Miss pulled off a 38-27 win in Starkville.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald has quietly produced one of the SEC’s most productive seasons this fall. The sophomore is third in the league in total offense with 2,178 yards passing and 985 yards rushing. Fitzgerald is the first player in the SEC with three games of at least 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing since Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel did it during his 2012 Heisman Trophy season.
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 1640-AM, 1490-AM, 103.1 FM