November 25, 2012 2:43:05 AM
OXFORD - What did we learn?
Mississippi State University coach Dan Mullen has not only seen what happened Saturday night before, he lived it in reverse four years ago.
In 2009, he was the new coach ready to embrace the biggest rivalry game in the state of the Mississippi. Mullen took the microphone after a 41-27 victory in his home stadium and said "one team in this state is on the rise and heading into the right direction".
After a 41-24 loss where the end of the game showcased the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium jumbotron playing Mullen's speech from 2010 where he said "we'll never lose to this team again", the Bulldogs fourth-year coach had to walk off the field in Oxford with a feeling he never wanted to embrace.
"We didn't execute very well (and) didn't play very well at all," Mullen said after the game. "They must love me here if they're putting me on the jumbotron."
In 2012, it was Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze bringing the new, fresh and exciting energy into a program that had been tired of being pushed around in a rivalry that had been one sided over the past half decade. Judging by the 'Our State' billboards, ad campaigns and marketing by the MSU athletics department, the Rebels (6-6, 3-5 in Southeastern Conference) were motivated on many levels to end the talk from the southern part of the state about the rivalry.
"Rebel Nation had to go through losing the momentum in this series," Freeze said. "I understand that was difficult. I lived it. I've been through it and our kids were very aware of that tonight."
Ole Miss won the Egg Bowl for the first time since 2008 when they crushed the Bulldogs 45-0 in the final game of Sylvester Croom's coaching career at MSU. The Rebels also earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.
"This game was personal," Ole Miss sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief said. "I've been hearing through Twitter and other media that we were soft and a lot of noise. I know I could make plays and that's what I did."
Saturday saw several Ole Miss fans of the 61,005 in attendance spilling onto the field to celebrate near mid-field in what was without a doubt the biggest win in Freeze's first season in Oxford.
MSU's seniors were trying to be the first class to win four straight Egg Bowl contests since 1942 and throughout an agonizing fourth quarter had to learn how to deal with its first loss to the intra-state rivalry.
"It wouldn't be a rivalry if we won every game," MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said. "It hurts and if we don't learn off this then I expect the same thing to happen in the bowl game."
Mullen refused to admit the emotion and sentiment that was pouring out of the Ole Miss locker rom after the Rebels blowout victory. The Bulldogs fourth-year coach still doesn't believe the determination to end MSU's winning streak, to get bowl eligible and playing in front of a raucous home crowd didn't tip the scales in favor of the home team.
"I can't imagine it playing to any more stakes than for us," Mullen said. "We take this game incredibly serious. I would be shocked if they didn't have that much energy for this game."
Judging by the result of a momentum shifting Saturday night in Oxford, Mullen and the rest of the MSU athletics department have not have to worry about being shocked ever again.
"These seniors had to walk around and hear how bad they were and bad it was around here for so long," Freeze said. "Now they get to hear the good side of it, so I'm thrilled."
For over a month now, MSU (8-4, 4-4 in SEC) will have to live with the feeling of knowing the trophy resides two hours north of Templeton Athletic Center in Starkville where it has sat for the past 1,456 days.
"It's going to be really tough to deal with this," MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis said. "We're going to have to find a way to put it in the back of our minds but I don't know how long that will take."
Since he took that microphone in 2009, Mullen has talked the trash that has led to Ole Miss being referred to as the "The School Up North" and after the game he maintained that he doesn't regret the boastful nature he maintained during the first three games of success.
"I stand by that statement and would make them again," Mullen said. "We just have to work harder and these guys didn't put in enough to win this game. We need more."
- Mississippi State University defensive coordinator Chris Wilson simply said it best after an embarrassing 41-24 loss to its arch rival Saturday night.
After giving up over 500 total yards of offense to another spread-option offense based on no-huddle tempo, Wilson was able to properly diagnose what is ailing the Bulldogs defense throughout the 2012 season.
"Right now we have a tempo issue," Wilson said. "That's an issue that we have to go into this spring type deal and before we go into a bowl game to get these fixed. We have to fix them in the off-season and there's no excuse not to."
Fix them how? We don't know the answers. Staff changes? Possible. Scheme changes? Maybe. Personnel changes? Not likely in college football with either junior college transfers for incoming freshman.
"I don't know (but) yeah, we'll evaluate that in the off-season," Mullen said. "We'll evaluate where we are as a program and how we can improve that in the future."
- The aerial combination of quarterback Bo Wallace to wide receiver Donte Moncrief hurt the MSU defense severally throughout Saturday night as they combined for seven connections for 173 yards and three touchdowns.
"He's a decent player and what happened was he made plays and we didn't - simple," MSU senior cornerback Johnthan Banks said. "They executed their offense well and we didn't do nothing on offense or defense tonight."
Moncrief tied the school record with three scores and his 173 yards receiving was a career high for the sophomore. It was a drastically different Egg Bowl game for Moncrief as he had just 20 yards in last year's 31-3 win for MSU in Starkville.
"We were going against one of the best secondaries in the country but I think we have some of the best receivers and playmakers," Wallace said after the game.
- The Mississippi State offense tried just about everything they could think of to jumpstart a running game that was just nonexistent the entire evening.
The University of Mississippi defense, which came into the rivalry contest ranking eighth in the conference in rush defense allowing 142.73 yards per game on the ground, completely shut down the Bulldogs for 30 yards on 25 carries. It is the second lowest rushing total Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5) has allowed this season only falling short to the 14 rushing yards they surrendered on Sept. 22 at Tulane University.
MSU tried outside runs with junior tailback LaDarius Perkins, who ended with 45 yards rushing, and even option play calls with junior quarterback Tyler Russell. Saturday's 41-24 loss to Ole Miss marked only the third game Perkins has been held under 50 yards in game and the Bulldogs are 0-4 in games where he didn't produce that mark.
"We'll go through the film and watch it but we didn't think they were overloading us (on the line of scrimmage)," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said.
The mark matches the lowest run total by a MSU squad since Dan Mullen took the head coaching job in Starkville in 2009. The previous low mark was 30 yards in a home loss to Louisiana State University.
- MSU's offense continued to fail to convert inside the opponents 20-yard-line as in two occasions in the first half, the Bulldogs came away with just three total points.
MSU came into the game 10th in the Southeastern Conference in red zone efficiency by scoring on just 77 percent of its red zone opportunities this season.
"Lots of big plays both ways, but we left 18 points in the red zone," Mullen said during the MSU radio halftime interview. "Gotta score touchdowns down there."
MSU's first opportunity was stopped after a fourth down jump pass by redshirt-freshman quarterback Dak Prescott fell incomplete. It was Prescott's first attempt of the game with six minutes left in the half. Prescott would finished the contest with -1 total yards and two incomplete passes.
After using Prescott inside the goal-line, the roll-out pass on third down fell incomplete forcing a 23-yard field goal by freshman kicker Devon Bell to tie the score at 17 entering halftime.
"It's frustrating," MSU senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis said. "You get in the red zone, you have to score and we didn't do that."
- Jameon Lewis' bang or bust element showed up Saturday night as the sophomore speedster quickly quieted the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Lewis' return, which was the longest play in the 109-game history of the in-state rivalry between the two in-state schools, came immediately after a 25-yard touchdown pass by Ole Miss completing a score on the game's first drive.
"It was all set up for me and I just ran basically," Lewis said. "I didn't have much to do with the play after the blocking happened in front of me."
It was the first kick return for a touchdown for MSU (8-4, 4-4 in Southeastern Conference) since Leon Berry accomplished the feat in 2010 against Alcorn State University. Before the play, where Lewis went nearly untouched from the goal line, Lewis' longest return of the season and MSU's longest effort of the 2012 season had been 49 yards against the University of South Alabama.
- In a season full of near-misses, Ole Miss played their most complete game Saturday night in a 41-24 win over arch-rival Mississippi State at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The victory allowed the Rebels to finish the regular season at 6-6 overall and 3-5 in Southeastern Conference play. Ole Miss will play in a bowl game for the first time since Houston Nutt took the school to back-to-back Cotton Bowls after the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
"This is really big," Ole Miss sophomore safety Cody Prewitt said. "We have been waiting for a night like this for some time. It's a great feeling to finally get No. 6 and we are looking forward to continuing our season."
What we heard?
Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen:
"Give them credit, their kids played hard, made a lot of plays when they needed to make big plays. We had a lot of critical errors, especially in the red zone, three opportunities in the reverse first half made it to three points. Those are things that you obviously cannot make those mistakes on the road in the SEC by coming away with points."
On turnovers and missed points:
"Looking at the first half, it was sloppy, they made some mistakes and we made a lot of mistakes. When you're on the road in this league and you get opportunities and don't capitalize on them, you're not going to be successful.
On attacking Ole Miss' run game
"We Lost two linemen in the first quarter, with (Charles) Siddoway out for a couple series and Tobias (Smith) in warm-ups just didn't feel like he could go; don't know if it was weather or what it was. I think that hurt early on and I just don't think we played very well on the offensive side at all."
On if over-confidence was a factor
"No, our kids prepared to go play, but we didn't execute very well, we didn't play very well. We had a good week of practice, but you never know exactly how it's going to play out until you to gameday and start doing it on the field."
On Ole Miss' energy and their stakes for the game
"I can't imagine it playing to any more stakes than for us. This is such a big game for us, and we take this game extremely serious. I would be shocked if they didn't have that much energy for this game."
On quarterback Tyler Russell
"He was holding the ball a little too long and he missed a couple of throws, had a couple of high throws, especially in the first half. He never got himself in rhythm."
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze:
"I cannot be more proud of this group of young men and coaches. I'm first and foremost happy and thrilled for them, and then secondly for our fans, administration and the people of the Rebel Nation who had to go through losing the momentum in this series. I understand that was difficult. I've lived it, I've been through it, and I know how important it is to this state and to our University, and our kids were very aware of that tonight. I think our coaches did a great job of going through the week and making sure that whether a kid was from Tennessee or Alabama or Florida or Illinois or California that they better understand that the University of Mississippi has signed them on and is paying for their scholarship here and that this game is important. Our kids proved that tonight. Regardless of how you motivate your team, every coach has to decide what is best for him and his program. We went about it a little different than some. We didn't play out of hatred for anyone. It was more about playing out of love for one another and this University, and our kids proved that they thought about one another and that they care for one another tonight. "
Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche
"It's hard to explain, it was a great game. We played our hearts out and we have been upset so many times this year. Those losses were heartbreaking and I feel honored to get this one. It's just a great feeling."
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace
"I think coming into the game I let my emotions play into the game more than they should have. But in the second half I settled down and eliminated turnovers, and it worked."
On Mississippi State
"We were going against one of the best secondaries in the country, but I think we have some of the best receivers and playmakers."
Mississippi State senior wide receiver Chad Bumphis:
On the first half
"It's frustrating. You get in the red zone, you have to score, and we didn't do that. It affects the outcome of the game if you don't score when you get the opportunity."
On being tied 17-17
"You've got to give them credit, they played a good game. They executed better than we did, and they just made plays."
On each team's emotions and energy
"It came down to execution. Everybody's going to be excited about a rivalry game."
On preparing for a bowl game after this loss
"It's going to be tough. We're going to have to put it in the back of our minds and worry about playing a bowl game."
A bowl game (likely the 2013 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.)
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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