Mississippi State football mailbag: Here's what's at stake in Egg Bowl vs. Ole Miss
STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football took care of business against Tennessee State in the 55-10 beatdown at Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday. But that was just the appetizer for the main Thanksgiving feast.
With a shortened week leading to the Egg Bowl, coach Mike Leach said he planned to begin watching film on Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) on Saturday night, just hours after the Bulldogs (7-4, 4-3) blew past TSU with another record-setting performance from quarterback Will Rogers.
If Leach is looking for bulletin board material ahead of the annual rivalry game, he might already have it.
"You're going to hate the sound of cowbells,” Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy said. “You're probably going to hear cowbells for two weeks after the game. It's Stinkville to me. It stinks there. I don't like mud. It's just so muddy. I don't know. I just don't like it."
With that, here are four questions and answers to dig into before the big game:
Does Will Rogers have NFL potential?
Rogers won't be NFL draft eligible until after next season, and he should be on the radars of pro scouts once he gets there. As a sophomore, Rogers already is a very good college quarterback. He continually sets Mississippi State records, breaking two more of Dak Prescott’s marks Saturday — single-season touchdown passes (34) and single-season passing yards (4,113).
His best attribute is his ability to take care of the football. Save for a three-interception game against Alabama on Oct. 16, Rogers has thrown 34 touchdowns and five interceptions. His interception rate this season is 1.4%, and he has completed 76% of his attempts.
But for Rogers to gain the most traction as a next-level passer, the Brandon native will need to show off his down-field game more often. That’s not necessarily a hallmark of Leach’s Air Raid offense. With most teams dropping eight players into zone coverage, Rogers often takes what’s available underneath — and that’s why his interception rate is so low.
Only 43 of his 573 attempts had a depth of target beyond 20 yards. However, Rogers still has shown accuracy when aiming long, completing 51.2% of those passes for 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. If he can continue to develop his deep game, Rogers become a viable option at the next level.
What can Mississippi State take away from a blowout?
Not much, considering the discrepancy in talent. Leach said he wanted to see consistency, and while it wasn’t a perfect performance — the Bulldogs lost two fumbles — the coach was pleased by the focus throughout.
“We’re getting better,” Leach said. “We’re a different team than we were early in the season.”
What makes Mississippi State different? Leach said the combination of “hard work and experience” stands out to him.
What’s at stake in the Egg Bowl, beyond bragging rights?
There’re the obvious bragging rights that go along with the Battle for the Golden Egg, but the game can have recruiting implications, too.
Defensive tackle Nathan Pickering acknowledged the victor of the Egg Bowl might not sway a player one way or another, but they can glean insight about how that team is wired.
"It really does play a good factor, because, I mean, if you're thinking about it from high school, they always want to go to the team that wins the year before they come out,” Pickering said. “But I mean, you're really just got to look at who puts down the most effort, who plays the hardest, that's the school you want to choose. At the end of the day, I mean, you're gonna choose the school you want to go to. But you look at who's the more nitty-gritty team.”
Is this the best Egg Bowl matchup in a while?
Mississippi State entered the weekend ranked in ESPN’s College Football Playoff poll, although the Bulldogs were only receiving votes in last week’s USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll. Still, there have been very few instances when both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have been ranked during the Egg Bowl.
This year’s edition will be the first time since 2015 both teams are ranked at kickoff. The other occasions: 2014, 1999, 1992, 1957 and 1940.
"It's a very important game,” Ealy said. “It actually means something this year. Both teams are pretty good. This game is going to be a very valuable game.”
Both teams are bowl eligible, but there’s more at stake. The winner Thursday will lock up a second-place finish in the division, with MSU holding the tiebreaker over Ole Miss and Texas A&M with a victory. For Ole Miss, a trip to a New Year's Six bowl is on the table if it wins.
The Bulldogs haven’t finished second in the SEC West since 2014.
“They’re a great team. We’re a great team,” left tackle Charles Cross said. “Just compete.”