Ole Miss receiver and Starkville native A.J. Brown holds the Egg Bowl trophy after the Rebels' 31-28 upset of Mississippi State Thursday at Davis Wade Stadium. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Stan Beall
November 24, 2017 9:48:25 AM
Losing the Egg Bowl is nothing new to Mississippi State. In 114 games against rival Ole Miss, the Bulldogs have come up on the short end of things 64 times now. Every one of them was painful because that's the nature of rivalries.
While there is no misery index that can be reduced to a statistic and recorded for posterity for comparison purposes, it is hard to imagine any of those other 63 losses were as painful -- both literally and figuratively -- as Saturday's 31-28 loss to the Rebels on Thanksgiving night at Davis Wade Stadium.
State rolled into the game ranked 16th in the nation and was a 16-point favorite against an Ole Miss team that wasn't going anywhere but home for the holidays and straight into NCAA probation oblivion.
And yet, the Bulldogs lost.
They lost their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, on their second possession of the game, and that was just the start of the losing.
On the night, State lost five turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions), a whole bunch of spots in the college football rankings (most likely) and the sell-out crowd, which by end of the third quarter was as quiet as a golf gallery. They lost Ole Miss receivers on long TD passes that spoiled an otherwise salty defensive effort and lost a shot at one premier bowl game (goodbye Florida, hello Charlotte or Nashville or some other non-tropical destination).
You name it, they lost it.
State has another game to play, it's true.
But the season that seemed so bright as the Bulldogs walked into Davis Wade Stadium Thursday evening has lost its luster and not even a win in a bowl game will atone for all the Bulldogs lost on this bitter, if not bitterly cold, evening.
For all the losing, the first loss was the biggest.
With State trailing 7-0 seven minutes into the first quarter, Fitzgerald kept the ball on a zone read and was sandwiched between a pair of Rebel defenders after a 3-yard gain. Nothing unusual about that, of course. It was the 162nd carry of the season for the bruising 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback.
But this time it was immediately obvious Fitzgerald wouldn't be popping up and heading back to the huddle. It was painful to watch the replay as Fitzgerald's right ankle was horribly contorted.
"It's a dislocated ankle," Mullen said. "I haven't gotten any more on it than that."
Just like that, the odds caught up with the Bulldogs, who gambled that a true freshman could serve as their back-up quarterback in an offense where the quarterback gets hit on more often than a woman at a House of Representatives cocktail party.
Keytaon Thompson, the true freshman in question, took over and struggled during the critical stages of the game, throwing an interception and losing two fumbles, each, it seemed, just as the Bulldogs were about to turn things around.
Thompson is going to be a good player, perhaps a very good player. The experience he gained Thursday, as well as what he will gain from the aforementioned bowl game, will be of great value in his development. Thompson ran for 121 yards, including two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, and threw a touchdown pass. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, he seemed to have grown up before the eyes of what was left of the crowd of 66,038.
"As the game went on, he continued to play better and relax more," Mullen said. "Everybody can see he has a really bright future for us."
But the future didn't arrive quickly enough Thursday.
In the pivotal second and third quarters, Thompson was as overwhelmed as you would naturally expect any 18-year-old to be. He was sacked three times, mainly a function of indecision and inexperience and in the key moments.
On a night when State ran for a whopping 294 yards and outgained the Rebels, 501 yards to 355, the stat that will prevail over all the others is the outcome.
State lost a lot to wind up losing by a little.
But in the cold, unblinking eye of history, it goes down a loss.
A loss Bulldog fans aren't likely to soon forget, as much as they might want to.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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