Oxford, MS (SportsNetwork.com) - The Egg Bowl is on tap for Saturday afternoon at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, as the No. 4 Mississippi State Bulldogs and the No. 18 Ole Miss Rebels close out the regular season.
After suffering a 25-20 loss to Alabama on Nov. 15 to lose control of first place in the SEC Western Division, Mississippi State bounced back with a 51-0 triumph over Vanderbilt last Saturday. The Bulldogs, who are trying for their first-ever 11-win season, will need to win this matchup in addition to an Alabama loss to win the SEC West, but their resume is currently still strong enough for College Football Playoff consideration, as they were No. 4 in the latest ranking.
"Obviously, this week changes everything with it being rivalry week," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "It's the last regular season game. You have to leave it all out there on the field...I know we will be going into a hostile environment. It's a tough place to play. I don't think they are big fans of mine in that part of the state. It should be a great challenge for us."
Ole Miss was once on the fast track in the SEC West with seven straight wins to open the season, most notably versus Alabama on Oct. 4 (23-17), but it has fallen out of contention is recent weeks with losses in three of four. The Rebels went into Arkansas last Saturday and suffered a 30-0 setback.
"I was concerned all week, for whatever reason, that we weren't locked in totally," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said following the loss. "I think that showed in the beginning of the game. That's my fault. I've got to make sure our kids are...Everything about us will be tested in preparing for (the Mississippi State) game."
The storied rivalry sits in Ole Miss' favor after 110 all-time meetings, 61-43-6, although Mississippi State has hoisted the egg in four of the past five seasons.
Mississippi State's outstanding offense (39.0 ppg) is one of the nation's most balanced with 264.9 passing and 246.8 rushing ypg, and the unit was in top form in the 51-point effort over Vanderbilt with 502 yards.
After a poor showing against Alabama put a serious dent in his Heisman campaign, Dak Prescott bounced back in a big way last week with 193 passing yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-21 completions to go with 30 rushing yards and an additional score.
"It was good just to get going and get my momentum back," Prescott said. "It was good to get some good completions out there. I trusted my guys and let it go downfield."
Prescott's excellent yearly numbers (2,714 passing yards, 891 rushing yards, 36 total TDs) could still very well land him in New York City as a Heisman finalist.
The other half of the Bulldogs' deadly rushing duo is Josh Robinson. With defenses keying in on Prescott, Robinson has taken advantage with 1,084 yards and 11 touchdowns on 165 yards.
De'Runnya Wilson is Prescott's preferred target with 30 receptions, 458 yards and six touchdowns, all team highs. The balanced pass-catching group has eight players with at least 178 yards.
The Bulldogs' defense (18.4 ppg, 400.7 ypg) has been excellent all season long, with last week's shutout performance against Vanderbilt one of their best as they forced three turnovers to up their season total to 21.
Preston Smith is one of the nation's premiere playmakers along the defensive line with 41 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. Benardrick McKinney has a team-best 60 tackles to go with 7.5 TFL and 3.0 sacks. Richie Brown and Will Redmond have three interceptions apiece.
The Rebels' offense (30.4 ppg, 435.2 ypg) took a major hit last weekend in the shutout loss, where they amassed just 316 yards and committed six turnovers.
Bo Wallace had a disastrous game, completing 16-of-31 passes for 235 yards with two interception before leaving with a sprained ankle. The injury isn't a concern for Wallace (2,789 yards, 22 TDs, 10 INTs), who isn't listed on the injury report.
The passing game hasn't been quite the same since Laquon Treadwell (48 receptions, 632 yards, five TDs) was lost for the season with an ankle injury. In his absence, Vince Sanders (37 receptions, 647 yards, six TDs), Cody Core (35 receptions, 480 yards, five TDs) and Evan Engram (32 receptions, 475 yards, two TDs) have seen a higher volume of passes thrown their way.
The ground game, which picks up 164.3 ypg, consists mostly of Jaylen Walton (435 yards, four TDs), Jordan Wilkins (316 yards, TD) and I'Tavious Mathers (264 yards, three TDs).
Ole Miss uncharacteristically allowed 30 points last week, the second time in three games the defense has allowed that many. The unit is still among the nation's elite in yielding just 13.5 ppg (first in the FBS) and 309.9 ypg.
Senquez Golson has made a name for himself by picking off nine passes, which is second most in the nation. Mike Hilton (60 tackles, three INTs), Cody Prewitt (58 tackles, two INTs) and Marquis Haynes (7.5 TFLm 6.5 sacks) are also having big seasons.