It used to be called “the Battle for the Golden Egg.” Since 1978, it’s been the Egg Bowl. The egg might actually just be a golden football, effectively making it the oddly-styled “football bowl,” but however you refer to this annual Mississippi intra-state matchup, it’s a shining example of final-week rivalry fun. Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State sit right in the middle of the nationally-feared SEC West, so this Thursday’s edition down in Oxford should be a real blast. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks!
Ole Miss Vs. Mississippi State Odds
Vegas sees this one as just about dead even- although they’re the home team, Ole Miss is favored by just 2.5 points. The points total is set at 59, just about par for the course in today’s modern, high-scoring SEC.
Ole Miss Vs. Mississippi State Prediction & Pick
Will this be the Lane Train’s last stop in Oxford? Many think so, as the polarizing, but often successful head coach has been linked to the highly coveted Auburn job that opened up after Brian Harsin’s well-deserved dismissal. Kiffin has engineered his squad all over the place this year- and as high as #7 in the AP Poll before their undefeated run was nixed by a resurgent LSU.
They even had a viable playoff path as recently as mid-November, before a close loss to Alabama effectively closed that door. Now, they’re just playing for pride, bowl placement, and a golden football elevated above a wood and gold pedestal. If it really is the end of a very interesting and deeply entertaining Kiffin era in Mississippi, you can bet he and his team will be firing on all cylinders to go out with a bang.
The opposing sideline will also be led by a former PAC-12 head coach who is brimming with personality, Washington State legend Mike Leach. Even if his suspicions are correct and his players have been spending their time eating fish sandwiches and drinking lemonade under a big ol’ shade tree (this is an almost-verbatim quote from a real Leach interview), they’ve won a decent amount of games- they shot as high as 16th in the AP rankings, and have a shot to finish the season with an extremely respectable, dare I say above-expectations 8-4 record this week. Really, other than Kentucky, they’ve only lost to the best of the best, so there’s no reason to write off the bulldogs in this one, especially with college football rivalries always seeming to end up being competitive matchups- and no, that assertion is not an excuse for any reader to discuss the events of Thanksgiving weekend 2018 in Columbus, Ohio
When it comes to betting this one, it’s seriously a challenge when it comes to the spread. It’s one of those rare instances where I could see the home team squeaking out a one or two point win; as narrow as it is, I do not see this spread as analogous to a moneyline. Still, as long as it remains within a field goal, I think it’s your best bet. Ole Miss have been in a rough stretch, and will be extremely motivated to end the season strong with a home win. In terms of the total, that’s much more of a no-brainer- it’s Leach vs Lane in a last-week rivalry matchup, we are going with the over, simple as that. Do not dare to bet against the air raid when it comes to volume, even in a road setting.
How will the Ole Miss pass defense hold up against Mike Leach’s air raid offense? Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Ole Miss vs Mississippi St below.
Mississippi State Air Raid vs. Ole Miss Pass Defense
Surprise! We’re talking about Mike Leach’s trademark “air raid” passing offense, and how his next would-be victim can handle it. Unshockingly, Mississippi State has produced the SEC’s leading passer in terms of volume, as Will Rogers has racked up 3,464 yards through the air to go along with 32 touchdown passes. When it comes to efficiency, he’s protected the ball relatively well and thrown just 5 picks even with all of those throws, but PFF still gives State the 51st-best passing grade in the country, just within the top third.
Their pass blocking is ranked slightly better, just in the top-50, while the receiving corps is outside of the top 100. Interestingly, despite the low grade it’s been an egalitarian effort from the Bulldogs wideout room; Rara Thomas leads the way with just under 600 yards on 42 catches, while Caleb Ducking has 450 yards on exactly as many grabs, and Rufus Harvey and halfback Jo’quavious Marks both actually have more, they just haven’t racked up so many yards per reception. Marks and Ducking lead the team with 8 touchdowns, while Thomas is in the mix with 6. There’s no stars here, but Rogers does a great job of spreading it around- Ole Miss will have to devote equal attention to a lot of receivers
Ole Miss’s pass defense has been better than you might imagine. They’ve allowed less than 220 air yards per game, and rank a decent 58th in PFF’s coverage score to go along with a strong 36th-place spot in pass rush score. Safety AJ Finley has the highest coverage grade of any full-time starter, and is also the only Ole Miss defender with multiple picks on the season.
Deantre Prince is the team’s top corner and he’s been okay- he’s had no penalties accepted against him, and has earned a coverage score just above 70. Prince is essentially alone when it comes to the cornerback position, however- the outside of the field could well be susceptible to air raid assaults. Edge duo Jared Ivey and Cedric Johnson have led Mississippi’s strong pass rushing unit.
They’ve put up 8.5 sacks between the two of them, on almost an even split, and Ivey has forced two fumbles. The both of them also boast a pass rush win rate in the high teens. It’s going to be a challenge to make Rogers uncomfortable as he executes the trademark quick passes of the Leach offense, but this duo might just be up to the task.
Ole Miss Rushing Offense vs. Mississippi State Run Defense
I’ve covered Ole Miss more than once this season, and nearly every time, we’ve looked into their prolific ground attack, which is averaging 278.3 yards per game, trailing only Army and Air Force, both of whom essentially only run. Today will be no different, as the season winds down, we’ll analyze it one more time.
Quinshon Judkins continues to have an excellent season; with just one game left in the conference campaign, he’s racked up ground 1385 yards, en route to breaking the school season record, and he’s found the end zone 16 times on those carries. Zach Evans is also coming up on 900 yards while having played one game less than his backfield partner; the duo have each averaged over 6 yards per carry. Dart is a significant contributor too with 500+ rushing yards. They’ve done it all on their own, as PFF cites the team’s run blocking as 85th-best in the country; it’s truly been an exceptional rushing performance for the Ole Miss ballcarriers this year.
They’ll be facing the 83rd-best rushing defense in the nation, as per PFF. The Bulldogs are allowing around 150 rushing yards per game, which is just around the national average. Two Nathaniels have been the top contributors in this arena, Pickering, an interior lineman, and Watson, a linebacker. Both have missed under 5% of their attempted tackles, and boast an average depth of tackle just below 2.5 yards, particularly impressive for Watson given position.
D-linemen Cameron Young and Tyrus Wheat have also been solid, but the rest of the team really needs to step up, particularly Jett Johnson, another starting linebacker. This team has the depth and ability to at least slow down the elite Rebels ground game, but if they allow their opponents to establish the run and really get into a rhythm at home, not even the most successful air raid will be able to save them.