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Season Ends as the Bulldogs Run All Over the Rebels – Egg Bowl Analysis

Photo by Danny Dickey
Photo by Danny Dickey

The clock has hit 0:00 on the Rebels’ 2016 season after getting routed 55-20 by Mississippi State on Saturday night in Oxford.

The Bulldogs 55 points are the most points scored by one team in the annual rivalry game since the Bulldogs put up 65 points in 1915. The 35-point loss ends the Rebels season on a sour note, as they finish 5-7 overall, 2-6 in the SEC and miss out on bowl eligibility for the first time in the Hugh Freeze era.

Both teams traded 3-and-outs on their opening drives before the Rebels went 75 yards in 11 plays advancing to the Bulldog 5-yard line. Unable to put the ball in the end zone and wasting two timeouts in the process, the Rebels settled for a Gary Wunderlich field goal. The Bulldogs answered with a quick touchdown drive but missed the extra point. An efficient balance of run and pass saw the Rebels cross the goal line on their next drive and grab what would be their last lead of the game.

The Bulldogs scored on their next three possessions thanks to big plays by Nick Fitzgerald and the inability of Rebel defenders to wrap up. Down 27-10, the Rebels did cut the lead to 7 after scoring 10 unanswered points heading into halftime. A stop on the opening drive of the second half swung the momentum in the Rebels favor, as they were again able to drive the ball into the red zone. On 4th and 1, Hugh Freeze decided to go for it, but Akeem Judd was stopped behind the line, and the ball went over on downs. After moving the ball down to the Rebel 38-yard line, the Bulldogs took a gamble of their own on a 4th and 3. Fitzgerald had time in the pocket and found Fred Ross for a 38 yard TD.

Down 34-20, Shea Patterson and the offense needed to score to stay in the game but another 3-and-out gave the red-hot Bulldog offense another chance to strike, and strike they did. Nick Fitzgerald went untouched for a 61-yard TD run, and the rout was on. The Rebel offense continued to sputter, turning the ball over on downs on two consecutive drives. A forced fumble by the defense gave the Rebels a chance for a score early in the 4th quarter, but they were unable to convert the turnover into points. The spiral concluded with a pick six on a bobbled swing pass. The game ended with the final score of 55-20, but the game was over long before the clock hit double zeros.

Dave Wommack’s retirement was announced before the game, and any hopes of his defense playing hard to send him out on a high note were quickly dashed. Nick Fitzgerald and the Bulldog offense were able to impose their will on the Rebel defense. Most noticeably absent from Saturday’s contest was the Rebel linebacking core. Once Fitzgerald made his way into the second level, there simply wasn’t anyone home for the Rebels. Fitzgerald only completed 8 passes throughout the game, 3 for touchdowns. The Rebels weren’t able to force the Bulldogs into obvious passing situations, allowing them to run the ball without hesitation. They were able to simply use the passing game as a complement to the running game. Coupled with poor tackling, the 111th ranked Rebel defense was one step behind the Bulldogs all night long. Fitzgerald accounted for 365 yards and 5 TDs, with the bulk of his yardage coming on the ground. In total, the Bulldogs gashed the Rebel defense for 566 yards of total offense. Talking about the defensive effort, or lack thereof, Freeze addressed what the offseason holds for his defense.

Once Fitzgerald made his way into the second level, there simply wasn’t anyone home for the Rebels. Fitzgerald only completed eight passes throughout the game, three for touchdowns. The Rebels weren’t able to force the Bulldogs into obvious passing situations, allowing them to run the ball without hesitation. They were able to simply use the passing game as a complement to the running game. Coupled with poor tackling, the 111th ranked Rebel defense was one step behind the Bulldogs all night long. Fitzgerald accounted for 365 yards and five TDs, with the bulk of his yardage coming on the ground. In total, the Bulldogs gashed the Rebel defense for 566 yards of total offense. Talking about the defensive effort, or lack thereof, Freeze addressed what the offseason holds for his defense.

“We will look at everyone and everybody,” Freeze said. “That starts with me. When you can’t stop their base stuff, it’s the process or the people. We will evaluate both, and we’ve got to recruit better. I’ll be looking for a coordinator that can bring toughness and physicality to our program and players.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the script was all too familiar. After a hot start, the Rebels were unable to sustain any consistency. Patterson operated under center early on to provide a new look for the Rebel run game, but as the game wore on and the Bulldog lead grew, the Rebel offset had to look to the air to get back in the game. Patterson wasn’t perfect; a key drive ended with an interception in the end zone, and he continued to show signs of inexperience that you expect from a true freshman. His receivers continued to let him down, as the drop problem from the Vanderbilt loss carried over to the Egg Bowl. The most critical drop was when Van Jefferson dropped what would’ve been a TD to cut State’s lead to just 3 before the half. Patterson completed 27 of his 48 pass attempts for 320 yards, two TDs and two INTs.

Converting in the red zone is a crucial stat in any game, especially a rivalry game. A turnover on downs, two FGs and an interception in the end zone spelled trouble for the Rebels while the Bulldogs were able to put the ball in the end zone to build their lead.

Spirits were high for the defending Sugar Bowl Champs headed into the season, but with no quality wins to speak of, the Rebels have their work cut out for them heading into the offseason. Freeze talked about how difficult this season has been and called it “the most difficult year of his career.”

When asked if this was the lowest point in a season filled with lows, Freeze had a straightforward answer.

“There were a lot of low points, but when you lose this game it’s low,” Freeze said.

The Egg Bowl didn’t hold any national significance, but all the significance in the world to people in the state of Mississippi. By playing with an apparent lack of effort in the Egg Bowl, the Rebels missed out on giving themselves and their fans a win to hang their hat on to end the 2016 season. The Bulldogs wanted it more, and that’s why the Golden Egg will leave Oxford and remain in Starkville until next year’s matchup.


Steven Gagliano is a writer for HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at steven.gagliano@hottytoddy.com.

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