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Pre-game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium - The 2012 Egg Bowl matchup is finally here




Matt Stevens


OXFORD - Good morning folks. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will of course be LOOKING LIVE.....at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in a matter of hours where the 2012 version of the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game will be played tonight in the heart of Oxford. The Bulldogs (8-3, 3-3 in SEC) will travel to enemy territory for this game against a Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 in SEC) team that needs a win to qualify for a bowl game. 




Here's what we're going to do for our pre-game blog: The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog is going to review all the material we've assembled for you this week in our print edition. 




NOTE: Be sure to bookmark this page as we'll continue to update this post throughout until kickoff as news continues to flow out about pre-game news for either team tonight.  




MONDAY - MSU football feature - Mullen feels Ole Miss has made progress under Hugh Freeze - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20443#ixzz2D9pSu3EG 




MSU football notebook - MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks was named Monday one of three finalists for the 2012 Jim Thorpe Award - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20442#ixzz2D9pgPwan 




TUESDAY - MSU football feature - Egg Bowl QBs attracting a lot of negative phone attention from fans - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20459#ixzz2D9ptrKer 




WEDNESDAY - MSU football notebook - Bowl eligibility creates desperation for Ole Miss - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20489 




THANKSGIVING DAY - MSU football feature - Egg Bowl coaches take different stances on importance of Egg Bowl to recruiting - http://cdispatch.com/sports/article.asp?aid=20490#ixzz2D9qPq3I1 








1. Can MSU coach Dan Mullen continue its dominance of the Egg Bowl rivalry against Ole Miss? 




Mullen never misses an opportunity to tweak the school he refuses to name - especially during the week he's scheduled to play the in-state rival. 


Mullen can become the first MSU coach since Allyn McKeen from 1939-42 to win four straight games against the University of Mississippi when the two teams meet Saturday (6 p.m., ESPNU) for the annual Egg Bowl matchup. 


Mullen has not become ignorant to the fact that in certain parts of the Magnolia State, large groups of fans would like for him to suffer his first setback in the rivalry after handily taking his first three 


attempts at the game he calls "the most important of our season". 


"I'll be honest with you, I think since the day I've got here they've wanted to get a win against me," Mullen said when asked about Ole Miss. "We're going to be expecting it to be a loud, hostile 


environment just like wherever you go in this league. Probably more so because the fact that it is a big rivalry game." 


Mullen still refuses to referring to Rebels (5-6, 2-5 in Southeastern Conference) by their name and has become famous for his "the school up north" nickname. 


"That school to the north of us, being a conference game, becomes such a bigger game," Mullen said at the 2012 SEC football media days. "Not to downplay the other games, but the overall impact, the conference one ends up being a little bit bigger." 


Despite the inability to break through about the top teams in the Western Division, Mullen has put an emphasis on the Egg Bowl game since the day he arrived on the Starkville campus. 


"It's just something that Coach Mullen made sure was the number one priority when he took over here," MSU junior quarterback Tyler Russell said. "We still have the clock in the locker room and we look at it everyday. We're reminded of the importance of that game on our schedule every day we show up at the facility." 




2. How will Ole Miss be able to reverse its recent history over losing close games? 




Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 in Southeastern Conference) is not only trying to break a three-game losing streak to the in-state rival must eat the Bulldogs (8-3, 4-3 SEC) in order to gain bowl eligibility after heartbreaking close losses to Texas A&M University, Vanderbilt University and last week against Louisiana State University. 


"There's a lot riding on this game for us," Ole Miss first-year coach Hugh Freeze added. "Obviously the Egg Bowl is enough, but I sure would like to send these seniors out going to play in a postseason game and our fans to get to experience that. They're a team that deserves to do that in my eyes." 


Freeze said his team has shown resiliency in bouncing back from losses throughout the season. 


"I've been pleased with the way our coaches and players have bounced back from those," Freeze said. "I have no reason to doubt that they would in this case. As far as the emotions going into this game go, 


all of that lasts probably a quarter. Maybe not even that. Then it's going to come down to who can execute the plan best, who takes care of the ball and who makes the fewest mistakes." 




3. Will MSU use the quarterback in the run game with Dak Prescott in a similar way to the success Chris Relf had against the Rebels? 




Former Bulldogs signal caller Chris Relf, who was never confused as a classic dropback passer in his five-year career in Starkville, led the offense to a 3-1 record against the University of Mississippi with the final three victories coming under the tutelage of Mullen. 


It is the historical success of this philosophy as to why coaches and players have hinted fans may see more ground attack packages with backup quarterback Dak Prescott this week in the 109th version of the annual Egg Bowl rivalry game between the two intra-state rivals of the Magnolia State. The Rebels defense is eighth in the SEC against the run as they have allowed league foes to rush for 152.71 yards per game after finishing last in the conference last season in that category. 


The smaller and faster mentality has allowed Ole Miss to find negative plays in opponents' backfields by creating 24 turnovers (tied for third-most in SEC) and 84 tackles for loss (second in SEC). 




4. Is Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace healthy enough to lead the MSU offense Saturday? 




The final piece to the instant rebuilding job by Freeze has been the quarterback position where former East Mississippi Community College star Bo Wallace has infused the energy and playmaking ability to the signal calling position on offense the Rebels have desperately needed. 


Wallace currently is currently fifth in the SEC in passing at 231.7 yards per game with 14 touchdowns but also 13 interceptions, a league-high among starting quarterbacks in the conference. 


Freeze said Monday a nagging shoulder injury since last September has held Wallace back from showing the full arsenal of his attack but is still likely to draw the start agains the Bulldogs Saturday (6 p.m., ESPNU). 


"He's definitely not at 100 percent (and) he wasn't Saturday and you can tell on some of his throws," Freeze said. "He's proven to be very resilient. He's a tough kid. He'll get ready to go the best he can on Saturday. I don't think he was any worse, but I don't think he was any better (health wise on Sunday)." 




5. Will MSU's defensive secondary changes be effective against Ole Miss? 




In it's last two games against traditional pass offenses, MSU made some personnel switches at safety including moving sophomore Jay Hughes into the traditional starting spot held by senior Corey 


Broomfield. The move has allowed Broomfield to move back to cornerback in third-down nickel defense packages. What Hughes, a more natural safety, had done is create more athleticism in the back with Nickoe Whitley to confuse and bother LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger and cause turnovers for Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson. 


"When we go to base defense, it's like having three cornerbacks on the field with Jay Hughes," MSU linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Geoff Collins said. "When we go nickel, it's like having four cornerbacks on the field. Jay has played corner and having that athletic ability is so critical to what we're trying to do back there." 












Senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis 




Bumphis leads the Bulldogs in receptions (49), yards (758) and the most important stat of touchdowns with 10. Bumphis broke the single-season school record with his league-leading 10th touchdown 


reception, his second of the victory over the Razorbacks in his final game at Davis Wade Stadium, and extended his school record to 22 career touchdown receptions. Bumphis said last week he'll have over a 


dozen friends and family at this week's game against the University of Mississippi in the annual Egg Bowl rivalry contest at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. With Tupelo being essentially right in the middle between Starkville and Oxford, the question came up as to whether these friends of Bumphis would be wearing maroon Saturday. 


"I'm excited and I'm ready to go to Oxford," Bumphis said. "I owe them. Last time I was there I broke my collarbone before I even got going. This time will be different." 




Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence 




With Ole Miss' high-tempo offense, it will be up to Lawrence to get the MSU defense lined up properly and set on every down. Lawrence registered 11 tackles, a pass breakup and his third career fumble 


recovery last week in a 45-14 victory against the University of Arkansas. 


Lawrence can be part of the first 4-year-class of players that will leave MSU with a perfect record against the rival Rebels program. 


"Benardrick (McKinney) and Cam have done a great job with making sure guys are lined up properly in those situations," MSU linebacker Geoff Collins said. "When you put it in players hands during the game, we felt like they respond naturally knowing it's about them going out and playing smart." 




Ole Miss 




Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace 




Wallace currently is currently fifth in the SEC in passing at 231.7 yards per game with 14 touchdowns but also 13 interceptions, a league-high among starting quarterbacks in the conference. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Monday a nagging shoulder injury since last September has held Wallace back from showing the full arsenal of his attack but is still likely to draw the start agains the Bulldogs Saturday. 


"He's definitely not at 100 percent (and) he wasn't Saturday and you can tell on some of his throws," Freeze said. "He's proven to be very resilient. He's a tough kid. He'll get ready to go the best he can on Saturday." 




Sophomore linebacker C.J. Johnson 




The former MSU verbal commit leads the Rebels in sacks with 4.5 and have had a tackle for loss in three of the last four games. Johnson was honored as the Southeastern Conference Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week by the league office after his first college start in September. 


The defensive end from Philadelphia, Miss., notched six tackles and a sack in helping the Rebels defeat the University of Central Arkansas 49-27. 


Johnson scored a touchdown for Ole Miss in its 41-20 victory over the Auburn Tigers in Oxford. The score came with 5:39 left in the first quarter. Johnson recovered the ball in the end zone after it was snapped over Auburn quarterback Clint Moseley's head and sailed into the end zone. The play gave Ole Miss a 14-0 lead at the time. While Johnson was at Philadelphia, he was an U.S. Army, Parade, PrepStar and SuperPrep All-America selection. He played in the Army game in San Antonio, Texas and in the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star football game. 












The last time Mississippi State and Ole Miss both ended the regular season with bowl-eligible records. MSU lost 45-35 in the annual rivalry game but would finish with a 8-4 record with a win in the 2000 Independence Bowl against Texas A&M.  The Rebels finished 7-5 but lost in the Music City Bowl to the University of West Virginia. 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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