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Last year's Egg Bowl brings MSU relief

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The excitement after Mississippi State''s recapturing of the Golden Egg last season was joyous relief for a team that experienced arguably the most humiliating defeat either side had endured just one year earlier.  

 

Sputtering toward the end of a disappointing season in 2008 -- which included the shock, season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech -- the Bulldogs walked into Oxford with no idea of what would become coach Sylvester Croom''s final game.  

 

Named Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 2007, Croom had just signed an extension after his eight-win Liberty Bowl campaign. 

 

His team entered the 2008 Egg Bowl with a 4-7 record, missing bowl eligibility by just two points after a 3-2 defeat to Auburn and a 14-13 loss to Kentucky.  

 

As close as MSU seemed to being a consistent bowl threat, its brutal 45-0 loss to upstart Ole Miss signaled the need for a new era. 

 

The Bulldogs gave up 11 sacks and were held to 37 yards of offense in the most lopsided Egg Bowl in 37 years.  

 

Ole Miss went on to the first of two straight Cotton Bowls, while MSU opted to cut ties with Croom and hire Dan Mullen.  

 

"We don''t like to talk about it too much, but you always remember it," said MSU safety Charles Mitchell, a freshman in ''08. "It''s always in the back of your head." 

 

The memory is painful for fifth-year senior center J.C. Brignone, who along with Derek Sherrod and Quentin Saulsberry was a starter on the offensive line that game.  

 

Having the likes of Ole Miss defensive linemen Jerrell Powe and Greg Hardy tee off on all three of MSU''s quarterbacks was sickening for Brignone, who has fully embraced the MSU-Ole Miss rivalry.  

 

"In my career, that''s the worst feeling and game I''ve ever been a part of," he said. "Being a Bulldog for five years, this is something I take deep down to heart. 

 

"Coaches don''t lose their jobs because they can''t coach, it''s because players aren''t doing their jobs." 

 

While Brignone feels the team''s uninspired play -- which came a week after beating Arkansas -- played role in Croom being replaced, the 45-0 loss showed the gap between the talent-rich Rebels and the offensively limited Bulldogs.  

 

Following the loss, MSU players sensed a shift in progress from their Egg Bowl win in ''07, which cost then Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron his job.  

 

Confidence was at an all-time low. Players were embarrassed and had no idea who their next coach would be.  

 

"We didn''t know what was going to happen," Mitchell said. "We had heard things about Coach Croom and whether he''s gonna be here. Everybody was down.  

 

"It was just hard times and something I don''t want to go through again." 

 

Mullen made an immediate impact, embracing the rivalry and making it a point to enhance that game-week above more than others. Players have noticed greater intensity at practice in each of the last two seasons and a different vibe when Egg Bowl week arrives. 

 

For the No. 25 Bulldogs (7-4, 3-4), following up last year''s 41-27 win over Cotton Bowl-bound Ole Miss means protecting the trophy and heading into bowl season with an 8-4 record.  

 

But being back in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the first time in two years will be an emotional and exciting experience.  

 

"Games like that is what makes you a better player," Brignone said. "Derek''s gown and I''ve grown from that. You keep that in the back of your head and it reminds you of how bad things can go. Two years ago, the worst feeling in the world was leaving Oxford like that. If I have anything to do with that, I''ll never leave like that again." 

 

The roles are reversed in this year''s fixture, as MSU is bowl-bound and the Rebels, losers of five of their last six, will treat Saturday''s game much like the Bulldogs treated last year''s Egg Bowl. Even the rankings are same, as Ole Miss was ranked No. 25 heading into last season''s game. 

 

Just as MSU sprung the upset last season, the Bulldogs are fully aware of Ole Miss'' potential to extend the Bulldogs'' two-game skid. 

 

"We were a totally different team back then (''08) and we understand that it was a very tough loss," Sherrod said. "But we''ve had success on our team and we''re on the rise. We have to keep the ball rolling." 

 

The Bulldogs are fresh off their 38-31, double-overtime loss to Arkansas, but the defeat was easier to forget because of what''s ahead, Mullen said. 

 

He admits homefield advantage is pivotal in league games but closed his Monday press conference with they type of confident quip that''s become customary during Egg Bowl week.  

 

"The game''s being played in the state of Mississippi," Mullen said. "We''re Mississippi State. We represent the state of Mississippi. So a game being played in this state we consider one we should win."

 

 

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