Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics
After a two-year stay in Starkville, the Golden Egg will return to Oxford as Ole Miss held on late for a 31-24 victory over Mississippi State in the 93rd annual battle for the trophy.
Round one of the highly-anticipated matchup between the two new head coaches goes in favor of Lane Kiffin as a Will Rogers hail mary attempt fell to the turf as time expired.
Early on, it felt as if Ole Miss was prepared to run away with this one as they built a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. A 54-yard touchdown strike from Matt Corral to Dontario Drummond got the day started on the scoreboard, and the Rebel defense made a play on the ensuing drive. After the Bulldogs put a drive together and moved the ball toward the goal line, Tylan Knight, a RB turned DB, forced a fumble that was recovered and returned by Deane Leonard to the MSU 16 yard line. Five plays later, Snoop Conner punched it in for a 1-yard touchdown.
The Rebels led 21-7 midway through the 2nd quarter with a chance to score again, but the Bulldog defense stood tall inside of the 10-yard line, forcing an incompletion on a 4th and 3. Rogers, the talented freshman quarterback, led Mississippi State on a 13-play drive, capped by a Malik Heath touchdown reception with :06 left in the half.
A scoreless third quarter would follow, including another empty trip to the red zone for the Ole Miss offense. The next points on the board came in the form of a Luke Logan 26-yard field goal to give the Rebels a 10-point cushion with 13:40 left in the game.
The decision to take the three points proved to be a good one as the Bulldogs marched down the field and scored a touchdown, but the Rebels remained on top 24-21. Needing an answer, the Rebels turned to their running game to bleed the clock and seize control. Jerrion Ealy, with a little help from his offensive line, found the end zone to extend the lead back to 10 with 4:48 to go at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
But the Bulldogs didn’t back down as Rogers showed the poise of upperclassmen and quickly got the maroon and white into the red zone. They would settle for a Brandon Ruiz field goal and the Rebels recovered the onside kick that followed. A conservative set of play calls gave Mississippi State the ball back with:23 seconds left. An overturned fumble and a miraculous catch by Geor’quarius Spivey set the Bulldogs up for the aforementioned Hail Mary attempt.
“It’s good to get the trophy back. Hopefully, we can keep it here for a long time,” Kiffin said postgame.
Kiffin arrived on the Rebel sidelines as a direct result of last year’s memorable entry into the rivalry series and he gets a win in his first appearance. Everyone knows the role that Elijah Moore played in that sequence of events, but the senior wideout has rewritten his Rebel legacy this season. Tonight, he totaled 139 receiving yards on 12 catches. In the process, he set a new program single-season record for receptions with 86—passing A.J. Brown in just eight games.
The man throwing to Moore had another stellar night as well, going 24 of 36 for 385 yards and two touchdowns. When his favorite target was covered, Corral found Braylon Sanders for an 81-yard touchdown and spread the ball to seven different receivers. On the ground, Ealy led the way with 93 yards and the one touchdown.
While the Bulldogs were able to rack up 479 total yards—440 through the air—against the Rebel defensive unit that ranks among the worst in the nation, Ole Miss found ways to get off the field in key moments. The addition of Otis Reese into the secondary was a major boost after the UGA transfer was finally cleared to play by the NCAA.
Both teams have a plethora of young talent setting up what is sure to be an entertaining dynamic for years to come between Kiffin and his Mississippi State counterpart Mike Leach. Rogers’ top target of the night was Justin Walley, a true freshman, who had nine catches for 176 yards. Corral, just a sophomore, will be around for a few more Egg Bowls and both teams will add talent to fit their respective systems moving forward. If tonight was any indication, all eyes will continue to be on the state of Mississippi and with good reason.
Following the 117th meeting in the rivalry series (93rd with the trophy on the line), the Rebels’ lead is 63-46-6.
Usually, the Egg Bowl signals the end of the season, but not in 2020. Ole Miss enters what has now become a bye week due to reshuffled SEC schedule on a 3-game winning streak with games against LSU and Texas A&M left to be made up.