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November 27, 2008

Ole Miss - Mississippi State match-ups

The Match-Up: This is the 105th meeting of one of the nation's most-played rivalries. Ole Miss holds a 59-39-6 advantage in the series dating back to 1901. Ole Miss holds a 53-22-5 advantage in the "Egg Bowl." The home team has won eight of the last nine games. Ole Miss has taken four of the last six in the series, although MSU won 17-14 in last year's meeting. State holds a 9-8 edge in the 17 meetings since the series returned to campus sites in 1991, after being played yearly in Jackson from 1973-1990. The Rebels hold a 20-10-3 advantage in games played in Oxford and have won four straight.

At stake: Ole Miss won the inside track for a Cotton Bowl invitation with a 31-13 whipping of LSU last Saturday. However, winning that game in Death Valley will lose its luster if the Rebels can't take care of Mississippi State. While all eyes are on the Cotton Bowl, it could get even better for the Rebels in the form of a invitation to the Capital One Bowl should Georgia lose to Georgia Tech, South Carolina fall to Clemson and Alabama wins over Auburn. Aside from bowl positioning, obviously bragging rights are at stake and the outcome could influence some in-state recruits. At least 100 prospects and family members are expected, with at least a couple of dozen being of the high profile variety.

Keys to the Game: 1) Keep the momentum. The Rebels have played nearly flawlessly since coming off an open date and beating ULM, 59-0, on Nov. 15. 2) Treat it as a rivalry game. This is State's bowl game and a 5-7 record could keep Sylvester Croom in Starkville for another year, whereas a 4-8 record likely will mean at least major staff changes. Mississippi State will come out ready to play and Ole Miss must match the Bulldogs' initial intensity. 3) Put it away early. The longer State hangs around, the longer they have a chance of winning the game. The Rebels need to score early and often in all phases of the game to send a message that the Rebels have the most and best talent.

Ole Miss rushing versus the Mississippi State ground defense: Houston Nutt has fared well against Mississippi State, never losing to the Bulldogs and last year, his Razorback team put up 429 yards of offense on a very decent State defense in a 45-31 win. Granted, Nutt doesn't have Darren McFadden any longer, but he's certainly made do with a relatively inexperienced junior and a cast of other running backs. Ole Miss is No. 32 in rushing offense among the 119 Division I teams, running for 180 yards a game. Junior Cordera Eason had back to back 100 yard rushing games against Auburn and ULM before falling off to 60 yards last week against LSU. He'll carry the load again for Ole Miss against a State team that is ranked No. 65 in rushing defense, giving up a respectable 144 yards a game. Nutt has found a way to run for a least 100 yards in every game this season and while he went to the air early against LSU, look for him to take it Mississippi State early on the ground to get the running game established. Senior Bulldog linebacker Dominic Douglas is the SEC's leading tackler with 100 total stops. Ole Miss' offensive line has improved week to week and the Rebels should find some success on the ground against the Bulldogs.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Ole Miss passing versus the Mississippi State secondary: The big news coming out of practice is that Rebel quarterback Jevan Snead has a bruised shoulder - suffered late in the first half against LSU. Snead's passing production did fall off in the second half, but whether that can be attributed to the injury or LSU's defensive adjustments is not clear. Snead had his best day as a Rebel against LSU, hitting on 16 of 25 passes for 274 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns and isn't expected to be limited by the injury on Friday. Senior receiver Mike Wallace also had one of his better days, hauling in five passes for 99 yards. Overall all, Snead sprayed the ball around to eight different receivers. Ole Miss is ranked No. 59 in passing, throwing for 212 yards a game and will face a Mississippi State team that is ranked No. 14 in pass defense, giving up 170 yards a game. Senior safety Derek Pegues has two interceptions and six pass break-ups. While Ole Miss has one of the better receiving corps in the SEC and Snead seems to be coming into his own, State's ranking in pass defense must be acknowledged and respected. Key for Ole Miss to win this battle will be finding success on the ground that will allow Snead to hit on some play action passes.

Advantage: Even

Mississippi State rushing versus the Ole Miss ground defense: It's no big secret - Mississippi State's offense has been anemic. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 105 in total offense and No. 113 in scoring offense, only putting up about 16 points a game on the board. The team did have what may have been a breakout game last week against Arkansas with 445 yards of offense that was balanced with running and passing. State is ranked No. 95 in rushing, averaging 115 yards a game. The workhorse in the backfield is junior running back Anthony Dixon, who ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing at 77.5 yards per outing and has scored seven touchdowns. The Bulldogs will face and Ole Miss defense that is ranked No. 9 nationally in rushing defense, giving up just 97 yards a game. Last week against LSU, Ole Miss held a team averaging 180 yards a game to just 37 yards on 29 attempts - an average of 1.3 yards a rush. If the Rebels come to play, the defensive line and linebackers should have no problem shutting down State's running game.

Edge: Ole Miss

Mississippi State passing versus the Ole Miss secondary:
Mississippi State is ranked No. 91 in passing offense, throwing for 182 yards a game. Junior quarterback Tyson Lee has emerged as the starter, completing 148-of-251 passes for 1,470 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Junior wide receiver Brandon McRae is fourth in the conference in receptions with 50 for 512 yards and three scores. State will face an Ole Miss secondary that has improved over recent weeks to a respectable No. 84 ranking, giving up 220 yards a game through the air. The Rebel defensive front has improved from week to week and has to been one of the top lines in the SEC, if not the country. The group disrupted LSU's passing game and their quickness off the ball puts pressure on the quarterback and helps to offset a secondary that has been subject to be picked on during the season. The teams that have had the most success against Ole Miss passing include Memphis and South Carolina, teams that went to a three-step drop by the quarterback in order to get the ball off quickly. If State employs a five or seven-step drop, the Rebels have demonstrated an ability to get to the quarterback routinely in that scheme. Still the Rebels have had some problems in the secondary, and are subject to give up big chunks of yardage.

Edge: Even

Special Teams: Often overlooked in the Rebels' successful season is the improvement on special teams. But it's a given that it's not overlooked by Houston Nutt and special teams coordinator James Shibest. The Rebels gift wrapped an Egg Bowl trophy to State last year thanks to 75-yard touchdown on a punt return. This season, the Rebels have improved in every aspect of special teams. Ole Miss is No. 52 in punt returns at just over nine yards a return (State is No. 108 at 5.5 a return), No. 37 in kick returns at 22 yards per return (State is No. 89 at 19 yards a return), and No. 38 in punt return defense giving up just six yards a return (State is No. 103 at 12 yards a return). The Rebels are No. 26 in net punting at 39.5 yards a kick (State is No. 108 at 37 yards a kick) and Joshua Shene is rated No. 26 in field goals hitting on 15 of 17 while State's Adam Carlson is ranked No. 98 and has hit on seven of 13 attempts.

Edge: Ole Miss

Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy. High 56F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph. 10% chance of rain.

Broadcast information: TV: Raycom Sports (Dave Neal, play-by-play; Dave Archer, color analyst; Dave Baker, sideline reporter); Available on ESPN Gameplan and ESPN360.com. The CSS replay of the game will be Sunday at 1 p.m. RADIO: Ole Miss Radio Network (David Kellum, play-by-play; Harry Harrison, color analyst; Stan Sandroni, sideline reporter). Satellite radio: XM 199; Sirius 210. WEB: OleMissSports.com will provide live audio through RebelVision, live stats and an in-game blog. The official Rebel athletics website will also provide a full game recap, photo gallery and live postgame coverage.

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