One of college football’s oldest rivalries takes place in Starkville on Thanksgiving night as Ole Miss and Mississippi State write another chapter in the history books in the 90th Battle for the Golden Egg. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.
“It’s a huge week for us with a big rivalry game on the road, and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Ole Miss Head Coach Matt Luke said. “It’s a tough turnaround, coming off of Saturday and getting ready for a Thursday game. That obviously presents some challenges, but having a rivalry game to get ready for helps your focus.”
Ole Miss (5-6, 2-5 SEC) hopes to rebound after a heartbreaking 31-24 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies pulled away late in the game by a pick-6 to go ahead 28-24 and then kicked a field goal to close the deal with just over a couple of minutes left on the clock.
Ole Miss sophomore wide receiver A.J. Brown returns home to Starkville for the first time as a Rebel on Thursday. He leads the SEC in multiple receiving categories: total receiving yards (1,085), receiving touchdowns (10), yards per game (98.6), and receptions per game (6.3). Brown is just 69 yards short of becoming Ole Miss’ single-season leader in receiving yards.
“A.J. is not only one of our leaders and top players, he’s one of the top players in the country,” Luke said. “He’ll be a focal point for us to get him the ball. I’m sure this will be a big game for him. It’s a big game for all of us and anyone from Mississippi, but especially for him. Coming back home, I’m sure it’ll be a big game and be emotional [for Brown]. But all his teammates will be behind him, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity and the challenge.”
Mississippi State currently sits at 8-3 overall and 4-3 in SEC play. The Bulldogs are coming off a 28-21 road win over Arkansas and have won five of their last six games. Mississippi State is 5-1 at Davis Wade Stadium this season, with its only home loss coming to top-ranked Alabama. The Bulldogs are bowl-eligible after missing the postseason last year for the first time since 2009.
MSU’s junior QB Nick Fitzgerald has thrown for 1,770 yards and 15 TDs this season. Fitzgerald has combined with junior running back Aeris Williams to form one of the most dynamic running games in the SEC. Fitzgerald has run for 968 yards and 14 TDs, ranking second in the SEC. Williams is not far behind with 944 rushing yards (85.8 ypg) and has tallied five rushing touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, MSU boasts the third-best defense in the SEC, allowing just 297.2 yards per game.
“They do a great job of running the football,” Luke said. “That’s something we’ve struggled with, so we have our work cut out going there and stopping the run and forcing them to throw it. They’ve done a great job on defense. [Defensive Coordinator Todd] Grantham has done a phenomenal job. We have to do a good job of handling crowd noise, first and foremost. Then we have to keep our balance. We have to play fast and be able to run the football, then take advantage of our matchups on the outside.”
The Bulldogs are just one of three SEC teams that have allowed nine or fewer passing TDs this season. Junior Montez Sweat leads the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Defensive back Mark McLaurin is the Bulldogs’ top tackler with 63 tackles on the season. He also leads State with two interceptions.
This will be the 114th meeting in the storied rivalry between the Rebels and the Bulldogs. Ole Miss holds a 63-44-6 advantage in the series. It’s also the 29th time the series has been played on Thanksgiving Day. Ole Miss holds a 16-12 advantage on Turkey Day, including an 8-4 mark in games played in Starkville.
“It’s always been a big game for as long as I can remember,” Luke said. “To the people of the state of Mississippi, this is bragging rights. It’s a huge game, and it is every year, no matter the situation.”
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