BLOG — Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze didn’t spend much time reflecting on the Rebels’ loss to No. 5 Missouri during his weekly press conference at the Manning Center Monday afternoon before quickly moving on to the task at hand, the annual Egg Bowl against Mississippi State.
Freeze’s squad doesn’t have a choice.
Ole Miss and the rival Bulldogs are turning back time in this year’s matchup Thursday night (6:30 p.m., ESPN) in Starkville, playing the game on what used to be a long-standing tradition of Thanksgiving night. It’s the first Thanksgiving meeting between the teams since 2003.
Facing a short week, Ole Miss’ preparation has been put into overdrive, but the Rebels (7-4, 3-4 SEC) aren’t complaining.
“We’re extremely excited about getting back on the practice field today and having a quick turnaround for a game in Starkville on Thursday night,” said Freeze, whose team normally goes through light workouts on Sundays before getting Mondays off. “We know the task at hand is going to be a great challenge, and certainly we’re excited about getting down there and playing.”
The teams enter this year’s matchup with their roles reversed. A season ago, it was Ole Miss knocking off the Bulldogs to earn bowl eligibility. This time, Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5) needs a win to go bowling. The game already carries plenty of emotion on both sides, Freeze said, but if there’s any way possible to heighten that emotion, postseason stakes would do it.
“The Egg Bowl intensity is always going to be about as high as you get in a given game, but certainly with them having to win to go to a bowl like we were last year, if it’s possible to rachet it up a little more for your kids, particularly your seniors, I’m sure that’s something that would do it,” Freeze said.
The Rebels have different challenges to deal with from Mississippi State on both sides of the ball.
Bulldog coach Dan Mullen has reportedly said sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott (elbow injury) won’t play again until a bowl game, leaving senior Tyler Russell and freshman Damian Williams, who’s listed as the starter on the Bulldogs’ depth chart this week, as the only options at the position.
Still, Ole Miss isn’t taking any chances. Freeze said the Rebels will prepare for all three.
“You don’t like not knowing (who the starter will be),” Freeze said. “You wish you knew, but that’s the situation we’re in, so we’ve got to kind of prepare for all three unless something has come out that I don’t know about”
On offense, the Rebels will have to contend with an improving Bulldog defense. Mississippi State is ranked in the bottom half of the league in rush defense and scoring defense, but come in at sixth in total defense (370.7 yards per game) and seventh in pass defense (216.5 yards). Mississippi State is giving up 18.5 points per game in its last two games.
“Their length and size of their front, they’re one of the longer defenses you’ll face,” Freeze said. “Their linebackers are 6-(foot)-4, 6-5 and 6-3. Their front is huge. Very difficult to win one-on-ones. You’ve got to create some double teams, and then their ‘backers are pretty good at running around and making plays. In the passing game, they do a great job of spot dropping, and they’re so long that those windows to throw in, they don’t stay open very long.”
A healthier quarterback should help the Rebels. Bo Wallace, who battled a fever and flu-like symptoms against Missouri, was “a little better” on Sunday, Freeze said, and was planning on practicing this afternoon. He should be good to go come Thursday.
Part of Freeze’s meeting with the media, which includes the few seconds the coach spent talking about the miscues in the running game last week against the Tigers, is below.
For complete coverage from Freeze’s presser, see Tuesday’s edition of the EAGLE. (November 25, 2013)