It’s Egg Bowl week in Mississippi which means one of the two teams struggling through the 2016 season can end the 2016 regular season on a bright note.
Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5) has an opportunity to ruin Ole Miss’ (5-6, 2-5) chances at a bowl game on Saturday in Oxford, but there’s not much else that can salvage an otherwise miserable year for the Bulldogs.
Head coach Dan Mullen said there’s still a lot to play every year in the Egg Bowl.
“It’s huge for everybody when you have an in-state rivalry game,” Mullen said. “People take a lot of pride in winning the game and having bragging rights for a year. Everyone understands how important it is for the fan bases of both schools and what it means for all of us.”
When Mullen arrived in Starkville in 2009, the Bulldogs were in a similar spot and got their fifth win of the season in the final game when they knocked off a top-25 Ole Miss team. That led to three-straight Egg Bowl wins and the Bulldogs took control of the rivalry.
Since Hugh Freeze has been in Oxford, though, Mullen has fallen three of the four times the two teams have played including both times at Ole Miss. With the two team’s national success, Mullen said the rivalry is still strong, but the game doesn’t carry as much weight as it has in the past.
“There’s been times where this game was what was important to both teams,” Mullen said. “Both teams have done a great job of raising their level of play and what they have to play for. I don’t mean to say that to lessen the importance of this game, but the success of the two teams has not made this an all-or-nothing game for both schools.”
Both MSU and Ole Miss are coming off of embarrassing losses. State gave up over 600 yards for the third time in four games and lost 58-42 on senior night to Arkansas. Ole Miss dropped a 38-17 loss to Vanderbilt on the road.
Either way, it’s about ending the season on a high note for Mullen. He said it goes beyond just the rivalry as the one game doesn’t affect the program in the long run.
“A win makes you happy, a loss makes you sad,” Mullen said. “It makes when you go out on your alumni speaking event in the spring a lot more fun. As far as the program, I don’t know if there’s a massive effect one way or another.”
Ole Miss freshman quarterback Shea Patterson has had some nice moments in his two games since having his redshirt removed. All-SEC candidate Chad Kelly went down with a torn ACL and meniscus in his knee during the Georgia Southern game and Freeze decided on playing Patterson to finish the year.
Against Texas A&M, Patterson led a second half comeback on the road to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Patterson had 338 yards passing and 64 rushing in the game. He’s thrown for 560 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in his first two ball games.
Mullen credits his play to getting on the practice field early this year in spring practice.
“I think he’s progressed and done a really nice job,” Mullen said. “You watch him getting more comfortable with his throws. He’s a little more confident with what’s going on the field. All of that comes with time when you’re a quarterback. He’s done a nice job of being a better player today than he was at the beginning of the season.”
Ole Miss is hopeful that Patterson’s top target will be available this week. Tight end Evan Engram is listed as questionable coming into the game after an injury occurred in the Vanderbilt game. With nearly 1,000 yards receiving on eight touchdowns this year, he’s a load to handle for any defense.
“He’s a tough match-up,” Mullen said. “You’re always trying to create your mismatches. When you have a guy that is a multiple position player, they’re tough to matchup with. He can do the things he needs to do as a tight end physically, but has the athleticism of a wide out.”