Game Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: Ole Miss opened as an 8-point favorite. The line bumped up to 9 and 9.5 points in some locations.
Info via OddsShark.
It feels like 2014 was a long time ago.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs were as high as No. 1 in the first year of the college football playoff committee poll and the Rebels, in their, own right found their way to Top 4 at one point. Well, it’s felt just as long since the Rebs were considered the “Best 1-2 team in America” and the Bulldogs upset then No. 4 Texas A&M.
Thus, we are here at this years Egg Bowl with Ole Miss needing a win for bowl eligibility, and Mississippi State looking to play the familiar spoiler role.
Here are three things to watch:
Can Ole Miss stop the Bulldog running game?
Injuries on the defensive side of the ball, and in general, have played a large role in the story that is the 2016 Ole Miss football season. The Rebels have seen several of their key contributors on that side of the ball go down leading to one of the SEC’s most abysmal defensive units. To be blunt, the Landsharks are a shell of themselves and have been still in water since the first half against Florida State.
The Bulldogs have found balance in the run game, mainly due to the emergence of quarterback Nick Fitzgerald in that role. The sophomore signal-caller rushed for 131 yards en route to four touchdowns in a losing effort versus a porous Arkansas defense last week. The Rebels had their own struggles, last week, on the road at Vanderbilt, allowing 208 rushing yards to a physical Commodore rushing attack. Long story short: If the Rebels can’t win in the trenches defensively, Fitzgerald and Co. will run wild Saturday afternoon.
Can Shea Patterson handle the pressure?
Much was made about Hugh Freeze’s decision to burn the redshirt of the uber talented Patterson after a season-ending knee injury to Chad Kelly. Freeze pinned the decision to “giving his seniors the best chance to compete in a bowl.” While I appreciate Freeze’s commitment to his upperclassmen, it’s going to look fairly bad on the coach if the Rebs fall short of that goal.
Therein lies the pressure on Patterson. The Louisiana native said after his sensational debut in College Station how he always dreamed about these moments. While Patterson may not have dreamed it up this way, he has to recognize that this is only one of the many pressure situations that he’ll endure playing in Oxford and in the “rugged” SEC West. How he performs on Saturday will go a long way into determining what type of future he has in blue and red.
Does Nick Fitzgerald take the next step?
This season hasn’t been easy for Fitzgerald. He’s seen multiple moments where he’s been benched in favor of backup Damien Williams (South Alabama and LSU) and has the unenviable task of being the quarterback after Dak Prescott. Yeah, the guy who’s currently leading the Dallas Cowboys, a.k.a. “America’s Team,” to an NFL-best 10-1 record.
Fitzgerald has come along in recent weeks not just in the running game but in the passing game having big performances against the likes of Texas A&M, Arkansas and Stamford. Ole Miss already has their issues stopping the run, so if Fitzgerald is able to be consistent through the air it will be tough to foresee any offensive struggles for the Bulldogs.
It’s been a difficult season for the Rebels and I know that they want to do to a bowl, but it’s time that the Bulldogs finally put them out of their misery.
Prediction: Mississippi State 34, Ole Miss 30