It’s Egg Bowl time again.
State of Mississippi and Ole Miss.
Thanksgiving night at Vaught Hemingway Stadium.
It’s the 119th time these Magnolia State rivals have met. It is the 95th time that the Golden Egg is at stake.
Every meeting has its own personality. These Rebels (8-3, 4-3 SEC) are the No. 20, trying to win their third consecutive game.
Ole Miss trainer Lane Kiffin and his team address the annual speculation about which school might lure him away from Oxford. (It’s Auburn this year.)
Bulldogs coach Mike Leach is attempting to win the Egg Bowl for the first time, and Stille whispers about whether it’s time for him to look elsewhere for enticing offers.
Both teams hope to improve their postseason bowl opportunities with a Thursday night win.
But that’s a big bowl in and of itself.
Here are 3 keys to the Egg Bowl – and a prediction.
1. Ball security
Turnover is an important factor in any game. But they deserve special attention in this game as these teams have contrasting track records with turnovers this season.
State leads the SEC in interceptions (14) and is second in takeaways (20). Ole Miss is ranked 8th for takeaways at 14.
If either team has a decisive advantage in takeaways – not only in the number but also in the quality of chances won/lost – it could easily tip the decision between the fairly even 8-3 Rebels and the 7-4 Bulldogs.
2. Production in the red zone
Kiffin addressed this aspect during his press conference on Monday.
Ole Miss’ 42-27 loss in Arkansas last Saturday was largely decided by mixed red-zone victories.
The Rebels entered the red zone 5 times but only scored 2 touchdowns. They scored 1 field goal, missed another, and had a turnover on downs.
The Razorbacks entered the red zone four times and exited with four touchdowns.
Here’s how Ole Miss managed to gain 703 yards (200 more than Arkansas) and lose in a game that wasn’t particularly close.
State leads the FBS in points per red zone drive (5.19) and red zone touchdown percentage.
If either team has a clear advantage in red zone production, it will likely make the difference.
3. Rogers vs. Rebel Runners
Leach’s offense — and actually his entire program — revolves around quarterback Will Rogers, whose ability to view defense, make smart decisions and deliver the ball with precision drives the move. Of course, it takes time to function, and its receivers need to open up, catch the ball, and produce yards after the catch.
But it’s Rogers orchestrating the whole deal.
Kiffin’s offense — and much of his entire program — is built around a prolific running game led by the running back tandem of Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans, and quarterback Jaxson Dart. Of course they need holes to go through and darts and passing have to provide some balance.
But it’s the productivity of the ongoing game that allows Ole Miss to thrive.
The bigger the game, the more important it is for the bigger players to perform.
If either the Rebels’ state passing game or running game is better than the other at matching or exceeding their normal high performance, that could make all the difference.
So what will make the difference?
On paper, these key factors seem to give the Bulldogs (7-4, 3-4) an advantage, but games aren’t decided on paper. They are decided by which team plays better during the 60 minutes.
Any advantage the state might have in terms of takeaways or red-zone productivity is offset by the Rebels’ big-play ability on offense and defense’s ability to get sacks.
It’s going to be a close game and the Bulldogs will be passionate about ending their brief losing streak.
But it’s Senior Night and they’re retiring Ben Williams’ jersey.
And it’s the Egg Bowl, so the Rebels will match the Bulldogs’ passion.
After all, it’s Kiffin vs. Leach.
Final score: Ole Miss 30, State 27