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Mississippi State trumps Rebels on rushing defense

 

Adam Minichino

 

OXFORD -- As much as the University of Mississippi football team tried to stack the line of scrimmage to stop Mississippi State''s rushing attack, the Bulldogs did them one better. 

 

The Rebels entered Saturday''s annual Egg Bowl showdown second in the Southeastern Conference in rushing offense (220.5 yards per game).  

 

But MSU limited Ole Miss to 65 net rushing yards on 35 attempts for a meager 1.9 yards per carry in a 31-23 victory before a crowd of 58,625 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. 

 

"MSU had a great defense tonight," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "Our offense did not do enough to help our defense when they were playing well. That has been our story this year. That is what makes it tough. When our defense is on target our offense isn''t. We didn''t capitalize on turnovers and opportunities like we should have." 

 

Still, Ole Miss had a chance to tie the game in the final minutes. The Rebels nearly forced Vick Ballard to fumble with 3 minutes, 4 seconds remaining, only to have instant replay reverse the call on the field. 

 

Instead, Ole Miss took over at its 11-yard line with 2:30 to play.  

 

But the Bulldogs were ready. 

 

Josh Boyd and K.J. Wright teamed on a sack on first down before quarterback Jeremiah Masoli had completions of 15 and 13 yards to move the ball to the Rebels'' 37. A 15-yard chop block penalty on second down pushed the Rebels back. An incompletion on third down set the stage for another mad scramble by Masoli, who was finally taken down by Corey Broomfield to end the drama. 

 

"It''s our job to stop them, and it seems like that sometimes in a two-minute drill the offense is clicking and moving the ball and the defense has to just shut them out," MSU linebacker Chris White said. "That''s exactly what we did. It can go either way, but we stepped up big at the end." 

 

MSU''s play early in the game set the tone. The Bulldogs keyed on running back Brandon Bolden (12 carries, 45 yards) and Masoli (11-12) and forced the Rebels to go to the air to try to move the football. 

 

Bolden still had one touchdown to tie the school record of 14 rushing TDs in a season also held by Kayo Dottley, Deuce McAllister, and Archie Manning. 

 

But that statistic was a footnote for a defense that allowed only 326 total yards and made life difficult for Masoli for much of the second half. 

 

"I thought they were dominant," MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said of his defensive line. "I thought the absolute key to the game was stopping the run game. I think Bolden is as good a back as there is in the SEC, and I don''t know if in our wildest dreams we would have imagined shutting him down like we did in the first half. 

 

"Ultimately, if you are one dimensional, it is hard to win a football game that way. I thought the defensive line was critical." 

 

Diaz said the ability to stop the run helped the Bulldogs bring pressure against a mobile Masoli and "speed up his clock." The constant pressure forced Masoli into a 22-of-44 effort that resulted in 261 yards and a touchdown. 

 

"I thought we disrupted the rhythm of their pass game," Diaz said, "but you don''t get to do that if you don''t stop the run. A little bit of it is you have to eat your vegetables before you get to have dessert. I thought our kids did a great job of eating their vegetables." 

 

Wright had two sacks for 10 yards to lead the charge. Wright and White each had nine tackles to lead that category.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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