***WCBI’s 2017 Egg Bowl Preview will air Wednesday at 6:30pm and Thursday at 12:00pm on WCBI***
(Ole Miss preview is listed below MSU)
STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – Egg Bowl week has arrived in Starkville as Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen and quarterback Nick Fitzgerald met with members of the media on Monday afternoon to preview the 114th edition of the rivalry game.
Kickoff for State and Ole Miss is 6:30 p.m. CT Thanksgiving live on ESPN. Below are quotes from the press conference.
Head Coach Dan Mullen
November 20, 2017
“Obviously an exciting week. Rivalry week is always a really exciting time for everybody. I know it’s such a big game for everybody in the state of Mississippi. It’s a lot of fun involved in this game, for us and our players. Also though, we have senior night coming up. Even though we don’t have a huge senior class, look at what these guys have been through, the highs and lows in their career. They came in early in their career as a team that’s competing as the No. 1 team in the country and trying to compete for a National Championship. They also dealt with some adversity in going through a rougher season last year. The leadership that these seniors have had and the stuff that they’ve gone through to put the program back where we expect it to be this season as a top-15 program nationally is really, really special for what these guys have been able to accomplish. Each of them has a great story. If you look at every one of the seniors individually and what they’ve accomplished, they’ve done an awful lot for our football program. Usually I’m always making sure we have a great, exciting environment and making sure to encourage our fans to show up and create that home-field advantage for us. I don’t think I have to do that this week. I think they’ll be pretty excited about this game; they usually are. We expect a great environment. We expect a fun day. Playing the game on Thanksgiving night is such a cool deal. I remember the game watching football when I was younger, being played on Thanksgiving night.”
On the challenges provided by Ole Miss junior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu…
“I see them executing still at a high level. He throws the ball well. One of the things, being a junior college player, coming in instead of saying, ‘Hey, we’ve had to go with a true freshman as the backup quarterback,’ he played college football before getting there. He had some experience and obviously did a great job at winning out to be the No. 2 guy on the team. He’s got a bunch of experience playing. I think they have very similar styles in what they do. He can beat you with his legs running the ball. He may even be more athletic than Shea [Patterson], even though Shea was really athletic. I think Shea’s a really athletic guy. I remember watching him in high school and then watching him play and play against us last year. He’s a lot more athletic than he was on high school film as a dynamic playmaker. Jordan can do the same things for them. He throws the ball, understands their offense, makes the reads but is also very dangerous. He can beat you, not just with quarterback runs, but the ones that are more dangerous are the extending of plays and scrambling. I think those are the ones and his ability to improvise make him even more dangerous.”
On Ole Miss rivalry and how the emphasis on the rivalry has shifted…
“When I got here, I think that was a big point with a lot of our fans, that rivalry game. We built off that rivalry game and created a lot of excitement. Now, we’re looking to try and have our third nine-win season in four years. There were four before we got here. As I look at it right now, we’ve changed a little bit of the image profile. We’ve just changed the program around. We’re a nationally-prominent program with the expectation of being a top-15, top-20 team every single year. I don’t want to belittle it; this is still the biggest game of the year for us, within our program and within our fan base. I don’t want to downplay it. But we’ve also elevated the level of our program to a little bit more national prominence, and it’s not all about one game now. We’re trying to compete for championships in the SEC and national championships as a program. That rise in prominence of the program has maybe brought other attentions, not just this one attention. It hasn’t dropped; I just think everything around it in the program has raised up. It doesn’t seem like it’s an all-or-nothing game.”
On comparing the Ole Miss defense from last year to this year…
“They’re different schematically. They’ve got different players. There’s not a whole lot you can take from last year’s game. They have a different head coach, different offensive coordinator, different defensive coordinator. They have a whole new operation that you’re going against. I don’t really put a lot into last year’s game. When you play this rivalry games, records, last year’s game, what happened the year before or two years before, none of that really holds a lot of weight for this one.”
On the health of seniors Dez Harris, Donald Gray and other injured Bulldogs…
“I don’t expect either of those two guys to be back this week (Dez and Donald). We should get Brandon Bryant; we’re hoping to have him back and Keith Mixon back. They say there’s an outside chance Gabe Myles could be back for this game as well, so that’d be big for us. Both Donald and Dez will not be back for this game. Dez will be questionable for the bowl; Donald’s going to have surgery and will be done.”
On the game plan for celebrating Thanksgiving…
“I can’t speak for everybody. So Tuesday night of this week, which is kind of a half-Wednesday, half-Thursday, we’ll have a Thanksgiving family dinner. Coaches’ families will come with all the players after practice. We’ll have that family dinner, a Thanksgiving dinner here at our facility. Wednesday is pregame. Thursday is game day. That doesn’t change. We’ll finish up after the game Thursday night, hopefully with big smiles on our face and a nice centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinner at my Thanksgiving table on Friday. The players will be off for the weekend. We’ll get everybody back in Sunday night to kind of get ready for exams and go through a bowl schedule of what we’re looking at with what bowl games might be possible and how the schedule will play out for those. Everyone will have that time off to go spend family time. My brother and his family and my dad are coming in. We’ll have a really nice Thanksgiving dinner. Friday I think I’m ringing the Salvation Army bells Friday morning, so at 9 a.m. you can come on out to Kroger. We’ll come in as a staff and wrap-up that game Friday morning and put that behind us. Everyone will go and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll come back in Sunday and go through a recruiting schedule for the week. We’ll go Sunday night and have a team meeting. Those are my holiday plans. Probably a lot of football. I’ve got to find time to work out, because I will eat a lot. Recruiting season usually is not the best time of year either for coaches; I don’t want to hurt it too bad.”
On Ole Miss Interim Head Coach Matt Luke’s elevated status…
“I think their guys play hard. They’re doing fairly well. It doesn’t seem like they’re a team that’s distracted by all the different issues around their program right now. Obviously that’s not an easy situation to be in as a coach, with a lot of uncertainty. From what I’ve seen, it really hasn’t been a distraction for them. They’ve gone out, the guys play hard every week and they compete every week. Without knowing the ins and outs of what’s going on day-to-day within their program, it seems like he’s doing a pretty good job of handling the situation.”
On embracing the emotions of the Egg Bowl…
“I want them to embrace it. I don’t have to worry about it; they do. It’s not another game. Rivalry games, they’re just not. It’s an important game for everybody. I don’t even have to bring it up. They know. We treat everything a little differently. One of the fun parts about the game being on Thursday is it makes it unique in its own way that way. There’s a lot of unique things about this game, and I think everybody in our program embraces it. I mean everybody in our program. I’m not just talking about the players or the coaches, the trainers or everybody in this building. I’m talking about everybody in the Bryan Building embraces it. Everyone in the President’s Office certainly embraces it. It’s a big game for Mississippi State people. It’s a big game for their people as well. Just the bragging rights within the state – it means a lot. That’s what makes rivalry games so fun and what makes college football so special. That’s what fun. It makes it a fun weekend around the country.”
On the extent of the rivalry off the field…
“I don’t see that. I think there’s certain distraction things that people outside of the programs have brought on. I don’t think within the teams that has a huge effect. You’re talking about guys on the team that played against each other in high school and knew each other through recruiting in high school and growing up in the rivalry. I think that’s what sticks to me, the bragging rights to win the game on the field. That’s probably a lot more for all the chat lines – is that what you call it? Message boards. Is that old? With these rivalries, there might be one where you can call and talk about all the issues and problems, where all the fans go and vent. I think that’s much more of a passion of the fans off the field, that sort of stuff, more than the game itself.”
OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI/Ole Miss Athletics) – Ole Miss has known for a while where and when its season will culminate, and that day is almost here as the Rebels prepare for the season’s final game against Mississippi State in Starkville on Thanksgiving night.
Mississippi State’s biggest strength offensively has been the Rebels’ greatest weakness, and that is running the football. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams are the centerpieces in a dynamic and athletic backfield for the Bulldogs that have the team averaging 245 yards per game. That is good for 17th in the country.
“That’s something we’ve struggled with, so we have our work cut out going there and stopping the run and forcing them to throw it,” head coach Matt Luke said.
One thing Ole Miss can build on in the loss to Texas A&M is how it defended the run. The Aggies ran the ball 44times for just 119 yards, gaining less than three yards per rush. The Rebels were able to effectively shed blocks and clog running lanes. It resulted in their best performance against the run this season.
“It was matter of getting off blocks, playing with energy and getting to the ball carrier,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “They did a better job of that and as a result we played the run a lot better.”
McGriff felt the run fits and reads were finally sinking into the team’s head. It will need to remain that way if the Rebels wish to neutralize the Bulldogs on a short week. Fitzgerald is the most elusive quarterback this team has faced this season and is 32 yards away from a 1,000 yard rushing season.
“Every week in this league the quarterbacks are so skilled,” McGriff said. “This is no different. We are going to pack the box and get him off schedule on first and second down and force him to throw it on third down.”
The Ole Miss offense inexplicably sputtered in the second half against Texas A&M, and it was a large reason the team was not able to pull out a win. Luke hopes to learn from that and make sure they are as efficient as they need to be to put points on the board.
“We got behind the chains a bunch,” Luke said. “Typically, we haven’t been very good when we’ve been behind the chains, and I don’t think any offense is. You can’t have penalties. You can’t have negative yardage plays. And obviously the turnover for a touchdown was the difference in the game.”
Ole Miss will not be at full strength, like most teams in late November. Alex Givens is in concussion protocol. Van Jefferson is likely out with a dislocated elbow. Luke said Markel Pack is probable and that Jalen Julius is still in concussion protocol and will be questionable.
Emotions will be running high when Ole Miss steps into Davis-Wade Stadium on Thursday night. An already competitive rivalry has been doused with gasoline over the last 12 months. Luke has grown up with this rivalry. When asked what number Egg Bowl this is for him, he quipped that he’s 41 years old so that makes it his 41st Egg Bowl. He is confident his teams will keep their emotions in check.
“You want to play and compete between the whistles,” Luke said. “You’re going to be on edge and the emotions will be high, but there’s a fine line there. You want to make sure you handle things the right way.”
The short week can be tricky to navigate through. This is the Rebels’ third football game in 12 days. Ole Miss will practice at night on Monday and Tuesday to simulate the game conditions before reverting to their Normal walk thru schedule on Wednesday.
“It’s already a Wednesday in terms of the process going to the game,” Luke said. “You can’t do as much in pads. You have to do a little more mental preparation. We have to do a little more toward the end of the week. The good thing for us is we don’t have school, so we can devote some more time watching tape and getting mentally ready for the game.”
Kickoff on Thursday is set for 6:30 p.m.