Everything Fans Learned about Mississippi State Football after a Hectic Rivalry Weekend
Well, it’s all over. A week of thanks, time off school and work, and football gave Bulldog fans plenty to be happy about. Now that the entire SEC slate for the week has concluded, let’s evaluate what we as fans have learned about Mississippi State football from a high-octane rivalry weekend of football in the SEC.
The first and by far most important thing we learned was that Mississippi State has a far better football team than Ole Miss. Mississippi State dominated in every phase of the game, holding an offense that ranked in the top 5 in all of FBS to a season-low 189 yards. MSU rushed for 309 yards and posted two 100 yard rushers against That School Up North, who in comparison only rushed for a season-low 37 yards as a team and suffered over 40 yards’ worth of losses in negative plays. Mississippi State turned over the Landsharks (Black Bears? Rebels?) three times and protected the ball themselves by giving up zero turnovers in 60 minutes of play. The Bulldogs kept Ole Miss out of the end zone, a first since playing at Alabama on September 30 of last year. Mississippi State held a team averaging 33.9 points per game to just 3 points. The Dawgs won easily by a final score of 35-3, bringing the Golden Egg back to Starkville and thoroughly humbling the identity crisis-plagued Ole Miss faithful that three-quarter way filled Vaught-Hemingway stadium in Oxford on Thanksgiving night. This win compliments another 30+ point victory for State that happened the last time the Dawgs traveled to Oxford, when the favored Black Bears (I’m pretty sure) fell by a score of 55-20.
We also learned that Vaught-Hemingway stadium should be renamed Fitzgerald-Williams stadium. Nick Fitzgerald and Aeris Williams have dominated this rivalry when it goes to Oxford. Fitz has posted 595 total yards with 8 touchdowns in the Vaught, while Williams has tallied 253 total yards to go with 3 touchdowns in two career games at Ole Miss. In games against TSUN where Nick Fitzgerald has not had his leg snapped in half, the duo has averaged over 200 yards and nearly 3 touchdowns apiece. If there were an Egg Bowl Hall of Fame, Fitz and Williams would be inducted on the first ballot.
We learned that Ole Miss is yet to finish with a record above .500 since 2015. We already knew before this week that the best TSUN could do was 6-6, but now we know now that not only is Ole Miss three years removed from its last bowl birth, but only one of its last three seasons would have ended in a bowl game for Ole Miss anyway, even if they hadn’t been banned from the postseason in 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, MSU is headed to its ninth-straight bowl game and posted a record of 23-15 during that span with one game left to play. Mississippi State has won three straight bowl games as well. State has a chance to make an upper-tier Florida bowl, probably playing a Big 10 or ACC opponent to close out the season.
We learned that there may be a chance Jamal Peters and Cameron Dantzler are suspended for a portion of State’s bowl game, as the two were ejected when a fight broke out after a play that should’ve never been allowed to be snapped. Dantzler, Peters, and Ole Miss defensive back CJ Moore (who, coincidentally, is from the same hometown as Peters) were disqualified from the Egg Bowl during the third quarter. Its not a black-and-white rule as to eligibility in the next game for these kinds offenses, and the NCAA treats them on a case-by-case basis.
We learned, as previously mentioned, that perhaps even Ole Miss fans weren’t confident about their chances to beat their arch rival last Thursday night. Even after the university offered a buy-one-get-one-free deal for Egg Bowl tickets (tragic, I know), Ole Miss still didn’t sell out a game that was played for 18 years in Jackson, MS, because the two university stadia had no chance of holding the multitudes of fans that wanted to see it. The last time Mississippi State hosted a heavily-favored opponent for the Egg Bowl, the temperature hovered around 25 degrees and the game was also held on Thanksgiving night—but Bulldog fans packed the yet-to-be-renovated Davis-Wade stadium with a calculated attendance 55,113. Ole Miss posted an announced attendance of just over 56,000 for a stadium that holds 64,000, but TV camera angles and fan anecdotal evidence indicate that there couldn’t have been 50,000 Ole Miss fans there to witness their team’s drudging last week (announced attendances above the actual attendance are common in NCAA football and may occur when tickets are sold that are not used). It appears that Ole Miss fans are a bit of the fair-weather variety, failing to show up in numbers even when the game that can save their season is occurring in their own stadium.
We learned that Mississippi State, without a doubt, has the best defense in football. Before Rivalry Saturday, people might have said that Clemson or Michigan boasts the best defense in NCAA. But, as Maury Povich would say, “the tests have determined that that was a lie.” Michigan gave up 62 points as a favorite in the Horseshoe last Saturday, and Clemson gave up 600 yards and 35 points in a win over South Carolina. Meanwhile, Mississippi State leads the country in touchdowns allowed (12 TDs, the next-best team allowed 19), red zone scoring (allowed a TD on just 25% of red zone attempts), yards per play (4.14 ypp), passing defense efficiency (97.3), 50+ yard plays allowed (the Dawgs have surrendered exactly zero 50-yard plays), and, most importantly, scoring defense (12.0 ppg.). Mississippi State is also the tenth-ranked rushing defense in the NCAA, and the third-ranked total defense (total defenses measure yards allowed, while scoring defense measures points surrendered). All of these stats were accrued via an SEC West schedule that also saw the second and third-place finishers in the SEC East. State’s defense has faced off against seven teams that are or have been ranked, including six that have seen the top 10. Mississippi State has done it better than everybody against as good as anybody on the defensive side of the ball.
We learned that, in what is perhaps an unfortunate turn of events for the Dawgs and the entire SEC West, Ole Miss has fired defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, who commanded the 121st ranked defense out of 130 teams. The “Landshark Defense” for which Ole Miss named its entire athletic department, gave up 483.4 yards per game this season. McGriff’s termination has sparked some dissent amongst the defensive players in TSUN’s 2019 signing class, many declaring through social media that McGriff was a guy they respected as their recruiter and that poor player performance was the culprit for Ole Miss’s shortcomings on defense. Whatever the case, Ole Miss is in the market for a defensive coach that can turn around the fortunes of what has been by far the SEC’s worst defensive unit.
The Dawgs learned Saturday night that their Florida-bowl-game prospects may be in jeopardy, when a seemingly endless game was played between LSU and Texas A&M that saw 7 overtimes, an FBS-record 146 points, and enough controversy to fill up an entire episode of SportsCenter by itself. TAMU came out with the win, which may topple LSU out of their probably New Year’s Six bowl spot and may propel A&M to a ranking above that of MSU. What would most likely have been an Outback Bowl birth with an LSU win is now muddled with any number of bowl destinations, including the Citrus Bowl or Outback Bowl (which are preferable), the Belk Bowl, the Music City Bowl, or a trip back to the TaxSlayer Bowl. The odds are that the best game college football has seen in years just sent MSU back a couple spots in the bowl hierarchy.
We learned that Joe Moorhead is your football coach. He is my football coach, he is Mississippi State’s football coach, and he is our football coach. Coach Moorhead’s performance was satisfactory most of the time, but the first-year skipper will have to show some improvement once his system and style are thoroughly installed in order to win the championships Mississippi State fans crave and deserve. However, the emotional performance that Moorhead put on display in Oxford was heartwarming for the Bulldog faithful. One of the questions entering the game was weather or not Moorhead understood the gravity of this rivalry game, but Joe proved that not only does he understand, but he has completely bought in to the pivotal task of beating That School Up North. When Ole Miss deputy AD Michael Thompson, shouting racially charged words like “thug” at an MSU huddle, entered a thrall of Mississippi State players at midfield after the game, Coach Moorhead was found defending his team’s honor against threats and accusations from officials of a school whose hate for their big brothers was brand-new to the former Penn State offensive coordinator. Coach Moorhead told his team after the fracas, in slightly different terms, “We’re going to play with class, but we’re not going to take anyone’s crap either!”
We learned that MSU had a pretty outstanding weekend. A rout of your arch rival pretty much renders any sports-related ills that occur the rest of the week moot and inconsequential. But, to add to the celebration, former MSU players are balling in the NFL. Dak Prescott put up 289 yards and three total touchdowns for his Cowboys in a Thanksgiving Day win over division rival Washington Redskins, but was sacked 1.5 times by former teammate Preston Smith. We already discussed how the results of other games across the country add to the significance of State’s nasty defense. Although not every game in the conference went the way Bulldog fans would’ve wanted, the most important one did—and as a result, MSU fans can hold bragging rights over those amongst us that have fallen astray to the way of the Rebel. The Golden Egg will be spotted all over the college campus in the year to come, and thank goodness that campus is in Starkville rather than Oxford.