Hugh Freeze has exceeded expectations in Oxford this season. Can he end his first season the way Dan Mullen finished his first season? - Kelly Lambert
It's Egg Bowl week already! Time to consider OM-MSU match ups. Can Tyler Russell beat up on the banged-up and depleted Ole Miss secondary?
The last three years the advantage in this game has been clear. Dan Mullen has his team ready for this game. For whatever reason, Houston Nutt always thought he was "too cool" for this rivalry, so to speak. That, in turn, essentially equaled his demise. He lost the game and his program's momentum in 2009. He then lost the game two more times and then his final loss was his job.
Sure MSU had more talent and more depth, but the Egg Bowl usually does not come down to those things, as fans of either team can admit. It is usually a hard fought game, regardless of the quality of either team. I believe the real difference in the two teams was the pride they took in an Egg Bowl victory. The mental advantage Dan Mullen had over Houston Nutt and his players was simply too much.
This season, MSU took advantage of scheduling and put a fast start together, then ran into two SEC powerhouses on the road, and has since gotten back on track. Ole Miss has won some games, created some momentum, but also lost some heart-breaking games. What stands out to me, is that MSU does what they are supposed to. They have, at times, looked less than impressive, but they are steady and beat the teams they should. For Ole Miss, they look good at times, on offense and defense, but they have trouble when playing with a lead. The Rebels have trouble closing out games.
MSU has depth at just about every position. In Dan Mullen's fourth season in Starkville he has a good cupboard of talent, thanks to solid recruiting and roster management. At Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze is battling against depth and injuries. Freeze is trying to make up for Houston Nutt doing just the opposite of what Mullen has done in Starkville.
Similar to when Mullen arrived in Starkville, he used a junior college transfer at quarterback, Freeze is doing the same. At times Bo Wallace has looked impressive this season, at times, he has looked like a poor man's Jevan Snead(the Jevan Snead who once led the nation in interceptions).
Where Freeze and the Rebels will be vulnerable is in the secondary. Tyler Russell has been very efficient this season throwing 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has thrown for 2,523 yards this season, with 295 being his season high for yards in a game. That could change Saturday. The Rebel secondary is not only void of talent and depth as it is, but it is battling injuries. Starting cornerback, Wesley Pendleton has missed the last two games because of a hurt ankle. Charles Sawyer left the game at LSU Saturday. Both are expected to play, but you have to wonder how many snaps each can play.
I do not see a big advantage for either team at the lines of scrimmage. Ole Miss is slightly banged up on the defensive line and MSU has depth along the offensive line, so maybe that will be something the Dawgs can hang their hat on. As far as the MSU defensive line against the Ole Miss offensive line? The Ole Miss run game has certainly suffered in recent weeks, but when the Rebels throw the ball, the line usually gives Wallace time. He sometimes scrambles around and makes himself vulnerable. The dawgs will need to find a pass rush from someone to get to Wallace and force bad throws. Wallace has proven he will make mistakes when forced to, but has improved greatly in recent weeks.
As for the MSU secondary, they will have their hands full. Donte Moncrief is a beast and has been almost unstoppable in some games this week (see last week). He will be covered by Johnthan Banks, more than likely. That will be a battle to watch this Saturday. Early this season, the Rebels had no one to compliment Moncrief, however, Noxubee County native, Vince Sanders, has come on strong. He also had a few big catches against LSU last week, as well as having a big second half of the season. Then the Rebels will look to go to their third down specialist, Ja-mes Logan, in over-the-middle passing situations. Look for the battle between the talented MSU secondary and the developing Ole Miss receiving core to be difference in the game.
The MSU front seven will need to be cautious of not fearing Jeff Scott, but in recent weeks, he has not looked like the usually explosive Jeff Scott. The Rebels will not be able to beat MSU on the ground. MSU's front seven should be able to take advantage of a struggling Rebel running game, in fact, Bo Wallace, may be their biggest worry from the Rebel running game, as he had a 58 yard touchdown rush against LSU last week.
On the other hand, the Ole Miss front seven should have their hands full with the "Rebel/Bear killer," LaDarius Perkins. Nick Griffin should factor in as a change of pace back, that could really give the Ole Miss front seven fits. Ole Miss has had trouble with adjustments in recent years in this game. The Ole Miss pass rush hasn't been formidable this season, but Dave Wommack will bring blitzes from anywhere at any time, and the Dawgs will look to use Perkins and Griffin in pass protection on passing plays, to prevent drive-killing sacks.
Then there's my advantage point for State. I previously mentioned the Ole Miss secondary and Tyler Russell. This will be the matchup worth watching. Tyler Russell should win this one easily, but how many points he can put on the Ole Miss secondary could determine the outcome of the game.
This game will be a hard fought game, without question. Vegas calls this one a pick em. Right now, I feel like Ole Miss will find a way to lose it. It will be close in the end, and that is not a good thing for the Rebels this season. The home field advantage will help the Rebels, but unless they can do what they haven't this season (win a game in the fourth quarter), this will be the first 4-peat in the Egg Bowl since Ole Miss completed a 4-peat in 1986.
No matter what happens on Saturday, everyone will be out there Grindin' for their State.