Dan Mullen has uttered countless bold proclamations during his time at Mississippi State University. One of which was the “This is Our State” campaign that has plagued the state’s billboards and Foot Lockers. Sadly, it may be true. Mississippi State has won the last three Egg Bowls, and took home a much better recruiting class in 2012, albeit aided by a coaching change in Oxford. This claim of the State made by Mullen would hold a lot more weight if it were not for the desperation that has tagged along with his kid-in-the-candy-aisle-look-at-me nonsense.
Another bit of propaganda spread by Mullen was his speech to his team after their 2010 Egg Bowl win where he said, “We are never losing to this team again.” It appears as though 2008 just did not happen. The year where the Rebels tallied 8 more points (45) than the Bulldogs did yards (37) in a 45-0 beatdown in Oxford. There are players who will be playing Saturday who were on that team, that remember the humiliation, the degradation, and the humility bestowed upon a team that has been undressed in every facet of the game.
Mullen is famous for “borrowing” Woody Hayes’ famous nickname for Michigan, “The School Up North”. If he does know anything about Hayes, then he knows that even the great throat-punching Hayes lost to his “TSUN” eleven times in his career. Famed Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson lost eight times to rival Texas, including six in a row. Illustrious, questionably-immoral Bear Bryant even lost to Auburn six times. Saying that you will never lose to your rival school again? Well put Mullen right there above those guys because thats something impressive.
Aside from all of the gluttonous self-love that is Mullen and the Mississippi State fandom, let’s take a look at the matchup between the two teams that will be playing on Saturday.
Mississippi State comes into the game looking to regain their defense’s swagger that vaporized against Alabama last month. The Bulldogs allowed 38 points to the Crimson Tide that day, followed by 38 to Texas A&M, and 37 to LSU, all three in blowout losses. They regained a little respect last week when they held the Razorbacks to just 14 points, thanks in large part to five Arkansas turnovers.
The Bulldogs have a pair of linebackers in Cameron Lawrence and Benardrick McKinney who are big-hitters and tackle extremely
well. Lawrence leads the team with 98 tackles and is second on the team with 7.0 tackles for loss. McKinney has 87 tackles on the year and covers the buffer area very well opposed to blitzing like Lawrence.
Despite having a pair of stud linebackers, they rank 63rd in the country in run defense, allowing 4.31 yards per carry. They had a lot of trouble against Texas A&M, allowing 378 yards on the ground, including 5 touchdowns. You can expect a lot of read option from Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti today as Hugh Freeze will look to replicate the problems that Mullen’s defense had in space against the Aggies.
Preston Smith and Denico Autry are a pair of big defensive lineman who anchor the otherwise pedestrian unit. Smith leads the team in sacks with 4.5 while Autry is first in TFL with 8.5. They will look to chase Wallace out of the pocket and force him to make a mistake like he did against Georgia.You can bet offensive line coach Matt Luke has been keying in on those two all week.
The secondary for Mississippi State is one of the elite in the country, spearheaded by Jim Thorpe award finalist Johnthan Banks. A likely first round pick in next April’s draft, Banks has been a steady constant in the secondary and will make his matchup against Donte Moncrief one to watch. Across from Banks is Darius Slay, another ballhawking corner. These two will make things hard on Wallace when he is looking to go deep as they have combined for nine interceptions this year.
You can expect lots of draws and slants from the Rebels as they will look to spread the Bulldogs out. There have been increasingly more wide receiver screens, despite the loss of quality blocking tight end Ferbia Allen. Despite the good perimeter tackling of LSU, Ole Miss found a lot of success there last week and will look to try again against MSU. For anyone who is curious, no, landshark-tattoo-laden Quay Evans is not having a breakout freshman season everyone expected in Starkville.
On the offensive side of the ball, Mississippi State has an interestingly similar level of production as LSU with both teams gaining 4340 yards this season. A big difference is State is less apt to run the football as they do not have much of a threat after LaDarious Perkins, who needs 105 yards to reach the 1000 yard mark this season. As is the case with any Mullen offense, they do have a somewhat designated running quarterback in Dak Prescott.
Tyler Russell is a very efficient quarterback and has just 4 interceptions to 21 touchdown passes. It helps to have an experienced offensive line who has only allowed 13 sacks all season and a stable of pass catchers like Tupelo bar scene mainstay Chad Bumphis who has caught 10 touchdowns this year and is a playmaker who has no problem getting open. Charles Sawyer will have to improve upon his lackluster showing against LSU with a big day against Bumphis if the defense is to have any success. Arceto Clark and Chris Smith are also weapons on the perimeter so Louis Covington and Senquez Golson will need to keep up their good play.
Dave Wommack has done an excellent job of getting pressure on the quarterback, even against the likes of LSU and Georgia. A big game out of a fired up Denzel Nkemdiche, whose jersey was taped to the floor of the Bulldog locker room, could provide a few big plays in this one. Seniors Jason Jones and Uriah Grant also seemed poised to muzzle the Dawgs in their last Egg Bowl.
Mullen has been trying to entice Freeze to falling to his level of unbeknownst arrogance and trash talking, but the Rebel coach has just smiled it off and remained focused on the game at hand. This game may hold some weight as far as recruiting, as the two schools are fighting over top in-state prospects Ashton Shumpert, Kailo Moore, and Antonio Connor. This game means a great deal more than that though. This game could send Ole Miss to a bowl game, or it could give Mississippi State the opportunity for a 10-win season, their first since 1999. Billboards don’t matter anymore, neither do press conferences, booster meetings, or Twitter posts, all that matters is what happens Saturday night under the lights at Vaught.
Topics: Antonio Connor, Ashton Shumpert, Barry Brunetti, Bo Wallace, Cameron Lawrence, Chad Bumphis, Charles Sawyer, Dak Prescott, Dan Mullen, Darius Slay, Dave Wommack, Denzel Nkemdiche, Donte Moncrief, Egg Bowl, Hugh Freeze, Jason Jones, Jim Thorpe Award, Johnthan Banks, Kailo Moore, Ladarious Perkins, Landsharks, Louis Covington, Matt Luke, Mississippi State Football, Nernardrick Mckinney, Quay Evans, Senquez Golson, Tyler Russell, Uriah Grant