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Post-Game at the Egg Bowl: MSU 17, Ole Miss 10 (OT) - The Dak Knight Returns

 

 

Mississippi State players celebrating with the Golden Egg Trophy after 17-10 overtime victory over Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night.

 

Matt Stevens

 

STARKVILLE - WHAT WE LEARNED? 

 

 

 

The 2013 Egg Bowl can now be referred to as Dak Prescott's Thanksgiving night miracle.  

 

In what his coach called "divine intervention" in the post-game interviews, Mississippi State's sophomore quarterback permanently etched his name in the history and lore of the most important game in the Magnolia state. In less than a week, Prescott went from medically unable to play to rescuing the Bulldogs and becoming the hero for a majority of the 55,113 fans in Starkville during a 17-10 overtime victory over Ole Miss. 

 

"I didn't think there was any chance that would be able to play, period," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "It was a miracle. I don't know what else to call it." 

 

Down 10-7 with over 11 minutes left in MSU's season, Mullen turned to Prescott, the Bulldogs emotional leader, during a tumultuous 2013 season for what would turn out to be the most remarkable relief effort in the history of in-state rivalry. In the post-game media conference, Mullen broke into tears when thinking about where Prescott's performance come from mentally and emotionally. 

 

"It was a heroic effort by him to come in that position," Mullen said. "He's as tough as they come in this world. When your quarterback looks you in the eye and says 'give me the ball and we're going to score' then that's a pretty easy decision on my part as a coach." 

 

Prescott engineered a fourth quarter comeback over Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 in Southeastern Conference) that culminated with a dramatic three-yard plunge on his classic draw play on fourth down. The victory guaranteed MSU (6-6, 3-5 in SEC) has qualified for a bowl in four straight seasons for the first time in program history. MSU had claimed six or more victories in four consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1997-2000. Mullen not only brought back the Golden Egg Trophy to Starkville but has engineered wins in four of the last five meetings against Ole Miss for just the second time since 1950. 

 

"We had our chances to put it away, or put it to a two-score game several times," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. "And we did not get it done."  

 

Prescott, who had sat out the last two games with severe nerve damage to his left shoulder, finished the game with 144 total yards in the final 11 minutes of regulation and overtime. Prescott was 11 of 20 for 115 yards passing and the game-winning touchdown run. 

 

"It's been plenty of downs and plenty of ups for me lately and this is certainly one of the best feelings I've ever had," Prescott said. "It was a awesome atmosphere and our team wanted to keep fighting all night. Sometimes you have to just keep fighting." 

 

 

 

- Freshman Damian Williams holds down QB position until Prescott's fourth quarter comeback 

 

 

 

MSU freshman quarterback Damian Williams earned his first career start and became the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback for Mississippi State since Wesley Carroll against UCF in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29, 2007. Carroll had earned seven starts in the 2007 campaign. Williams is the first MSU true freshman to start at quarterback in an SEC contest since Carroll versus Ole Miss on Nov. 23, 2007. Williams finished the game with career highs in passing attempts (18) and rushing attempts (13) and matched his personal best with eight completions. 

 

"I thought Damian played really well all game long and did everything we asked him to do," Mullen said. "The stage was not too big for him." 

 

 

 

- MSU defense shuts down Rebels spread attack and forces QB Bo Wallace into 4 turnovers 

 

 

 

In a rivalry game that has been played 110 times, Nickoe Whitley's strip of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace will become a play that is talked about for years to come. With the Rebels quarterback just two steps from walking in for a game-tying touchdown, Whitley forced another game-saving fumble just like he caused Saturday against Arkansas in Little Rock.  

 

The fumble on Thanksgiving night in Whitley's final home game had the Ole Miss coaches screaming from their coaching box because they were convinced the Rebels would be a extra point away from going to a second overtime.  

 

"I couldn't see it, but the coaches up top were screaming like he was scoring," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'm not sure what happened." 

 

The ball would be popped loose and recovered by junior cornerback Jamerson Love before all emotion and fans broke loose on the Davis Wade Stadium property for several minutes.  

 

"It's a blur," Wallace said. "I kind of relaxed I guess. I don't know. It opened up and I saw it and made a cut. I thought I was in there. It's the craziest thing that's ever happened to me. It's a feeling I've never felt before. It's like your heart is ripped out, especially in this game."  

 

MSU came into the contest with the belief that if their front seven lineman and linebackers could pressure Wallace, turnovers would immediately be the result. Therefore, MSU defensive coordinator Geoff Collins dialed up exotic blitzes to confuse the Rebels quarterback into arguably the worst game of his Division 1 college career.  

 

"We just felt like we could get in (Wallace's) head and we did that all night," Brown said. "Geoff Collins is one of the best coordinators in the country. We have awesome teammates and an awesome program that we're building right now. Everybody believes." 

 

Before Thanksgiving night in Starkville, Wallace had never had more than three turnovers in a game and never more than two this season. The former East Mississippi Community College transfer managed to surrender the football four times in the game and each time were classified as mental errors and "bad decisions" by his head coach.  

 

"I certainly never want to talk negatively about any of our kids, but everybody watched the game and knows he didn't have his best game," Freeze said of Wallace. "In this league if you turn it over the number of times we did, it's going to be difficult to win games."  

 

Wallace countered his coaches' assertion that all of his turnovers were the result of bad decisions.  

 

"One was a tipped ball, that's going to happen," Wallace said. "A ball floated on me. That was one bad decision. He can say what he wants. That was one bad decision. The rest is just football and stuff happens." 

 

Against the multiple spread offenses of Oklahoma State, Auburn, Bowling Green and Texas A&M, MSU had given a average of 453 yards and 29 points per game. MSU surrendered just 318 yards and three points against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl win. 

 

Following his three touchdown performance from last season's Egg Bowl in Oxford, MSU made it a point of emphasis to lock down Ole Miss senior wide receiver Donte Moncrief for just three catches for 24 yards. The Rebels big play threat was neutralized thanks to the zone coverages provided by both Taveze Calhoun and Justin Cox.  

 

Calhoun, who said this week he has a older brother and cousins that all attended Ole Miss, recorded a career-high 11 tackles and a personal-best nine solo stops. In the last three games, Calhoun has booked 16 tackles and three interceptions. 

 

"Moncrief is a great player that we just had to switch up the coverages, show them one thing and give them another," Calhoun said. "I think we were able to give them a lot of disguises. They didn't really know where we were a lot tonight, and I think that helped us in the end." 

 

 

 

- Nkemdiche jersey controversy leads to number change in second half 

 

 

 

According to a new rule instituted for the 2013 season, Ole Miss was forced to have freshman Robert Nkemdiche change jersey numbers from No. 5 to No. 99 in the second half.  

 

Nkemdiche, who is listed as a defensive tackle and was the No. 1 ranked prospect in this past year's recruiting season, carried the ball from the tailback position four times for 21 yards. Nkemdiche's night on offense included a 18-yard run on 4th and 1 from its own 28-yard-line in a scoreless tie early in the fourth quarter.  

 

"It's a ethical deal where if your starting tailback is No. 5 then you can't try to sneak in another player at tailback at No. 5," Mullen said. "It would be like us having all our punters wear No. 15 and then you don't know if Dak Prescott is back there possibly on a fake." 

 

The new by-line, which was voted in by the NCAA competition committee this offseason, states teams may not have players who play the same position share the same number. Ole Miss already had sophomore tailback I'Tavius Mathers wearing No. 5 and getting carries before Nkemdiche touched the football. After ESPN play-by-play announcer Rece Davis pointed out the rules violation on the game broadcast, MSU coaches informed the SEC officials on the field of the violation. According to Mullen, Ole Miss was issued a warning after referees were informed and the Rebels announced Nkemdiche would be wearing No. 99 the remainder of the game.  

 

It wasn't the first time Nkemdiche had touched the ball this season. In the Rebels' opener against Vanderbilt, the 290-pound lineman ran for 11 yards on a fake punt, again converting a fourth-and-inches. 

 

 

 

- MSU special teams snafu nearly costs Bulldogs victory  

 

 

 

Ole Miss' only touchdown of the game came on a blocked punt by senior Dehendret Collins and recovery in the end zone by Terrell Grant.  

 

"I told [senior] Terrell Grant that if I was the one to block a punt, I would want him to recover it for a touchdown because this is the last time we would be able to play at Mississippi State," Collins said. "We were able to go into the locker room with the game tied, which gave our team motivation." 

 

The play, which occurred with less than a minute left in the first half, symbolized the special teams troubles for MSU all season. MSU was leading 7-0 and could've taken a lead into the locker room at halftime but lost all momentum when senior Baker Swedenburg fumbled the catch and then had his punt blocked deep in the end zone.  

 

Mullen said after the game Swedenburg was supposed to get off a one-step punt but got flustered with what to do after he fumbled the catch on the long snap. Ole Miss came with a all-out blitz on the punter and had multiple attackers break free on MSU's blocking assignments.  

 

MSU also missed on a 46-yard field goal wide right by freshman walk-on Evan Sobiesk to end regulation. The Bulldogs finished the regular season just 9 of 20 on field goals with the combination of Sobiesk and sophomore Devon Bell.  

 

Ole Miss had a early special teams gaffe as Andrew Ritter missed a 27-yard field goal after the ball deflected off the left upright.  

 

"We had our chances to put it away, or put it to a two-score game several times," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze. "And we did not get it done."  

 

 

 

- MSU would be open to continuing Egg Bowl game in Starkville 

 

 

 

One of the most interested observers Thursday night to see the reaction to the Egg Bowl rivalry game being reintroduced to a Thanksgiving night kickoff was MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin.  

 

Stricklin was adamant 30 minutes before kickoff that he "loves the atmosphere and excitement" of the game being played on the night of the holiday with a nationally televised platform. Before Thursday night, the Egg Bowl game had never been played on Thanksgiving since 2003. 

 

"I think it brings more exposure to both schools and that's never a bad thing," Stricklin said. "I'll be interested in seeing the crowd numbers but I think it's going to be really good." 

 

Stricklin told The Dispatch he would open to discussing continuing the game on Thanksgiving when it's played in Starkville as long as ESPN or another national television company would be willing to pick up the broadcast. Stricklin said no broadcast partner or any official at Ole Miss has had conversations or a meeting with him involving playing the rivalry game on Thanksgiving in Oxford.  

 

"It's such a network television driven thing but I'll tell you this: I'll continue to always take that phone call," Stricklin said. 

 

 

 

- Tyler Russell's college career likely over  

 

 

 

MSU coach Dan Mullen did everything but declare Tyler Russell's college career over after the victory Thursday night. Russell, the Bulldogs fifth-year senior quarterback, is battling a severe shoulder injury and was unable to move his right arm at all Thursday.  

 

"I would imagine (he's done) but we'll see," Mullen said in the post-game media conference. "(The training staff) don't feel good about it at all. I mean, I don't know when we'll play next so the earliest we'll play is in late December so who knows." 

 

Russell was not active Thursday and was seen during the game with his right arm in the same black sling he wore after the victory at Arkansas this past Saturday.  

 

Russell led the MSU offense last Saturday with 263 yards through the air and two touchdown passes in a dramatic 24-17 overtime victory over Arkansas. He continues to rewrite the record books with 5,441 career passing yards in his career. He moved ahead of Don Smith (1983-86) and Derrick Taite (1993-96) for third place on the school's all-time list.  

 

 

 

WHAT'S NEXT? A bowl game.  

 

 

 

- MSU (6-6, 3-5 in SEC) has qualified for a bowl in four straight seasons for the first time in program history. MSU had claimed six or more victories in four consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1997-2000.  

 

Mississippi State Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin confirmed after the 17-10 overtime win Thursday night the school has begun pre-selling process for three bowl destinations.  

 

MSU is currently allowing fans to buy tickets in advance for either the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., Advocare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., or the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. 

 

"We really think those three bowls are the most in play for us after this win," Stricklin said.  

 

MSU (6-6, 3-5 in Southeastern Conference) has qualified for a bowl in four straight seasons for the first time in program history. MSU had claimed six or more victories in four consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1997-2000. Mullen not only brought back the Golden Egg Trophy to Starkville but has engineered wins in four of the last five meetings against Ole Miss for just the second time since 1950. 

 

The bowl announcements will not be made until Dec. 8 and MSU will not begin bowl practices until after next week when finals are completed.  

 

 

 

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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