A blowout turned into a nail biter as Ole Miss escaped Starkville with a 31-28 win over Mississippi State in their 114th meeting. The Rebels led 24-6 and 31-13 in the second half before a furious rally for the Bulldogs fell short as Dan Mullen’s squad failed to recover any of three onsides kickoffs.
The game quickly turned sour for Mississippi State as quarterback Nick Fitzgerald suffered a brutal looking ankle injury in the first quarter. After being carted off, Fitzgerald was replaced by Keytaon Thompson. The freshman from New Orleans started decently, but seemed to have issues with decision making with the read option at times.
The game was emotional throughout; a scuffle broke out before the game started and there were numerous personal foul penalties including Ole Miss defensive lineman Breeland Speaks being ejected for his second personal foul.
The Rebels started the game hot on offense. Jordan Ta’amu hit A.J. Brown for a long pass and Jordan Wilkins opened the scoring with a 22 yard touchdown run, the first of two for the senior running back on the night. The teams would trade field goals later in the first half for the Rebels to take a 10-6 lead to the locker room.
The third quarter had a pair of long touchdown passes for Ole Miss to A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf and it looked like one of the most unexpected SEC routs of the season was on.
Ole Miss offense, as it has been all season, was boom or bust. The touchdown passes to Brown and Metcalf were both longer than 63 yards, but the running game bogged down in the first half and largely got abandoned in the second half until Wilkins broke off a 46 yard touchdown run that looked to snuff out any comeback potential and extend the lead out to 31-13.
The Wilkins touchdown put him over 100 yards for the game, his sixth 100 yard game of the season and over 1,000 yards for the season. He is the first Ole Miss running back to hit the century mark since Dexter McCluster in 2009.
Mississippi State would have other ideas on the blowout and scored three fourth quarter touchdowns (with a two point conversion) to make the game tight down the stretch. After all three touchdowns, the Bulldogs failed to recover onside kicks and the Rebels escaped with an emotional win
While Ole Miss was stretching out the big lead in the first three quarters, the Bulldogs helped them out with five turnovers including an interception by both Fitzgerald and Thompson as well as three fumbles. Out of the five turnovers, the Rebels were only able to capitalize them into ten points.
The loss likely drops the Bulldogs into the SEC’s group of six bowl games with an 8-4 record while the Rebels finish their season at 6-6.