The Egg Bowl is here, and it carries high stakes for Mississippi State beyond the bragging rights and the satisfaction of getting to crow about winning this game for the next 365 days. Mississippi State is playing to become bowl-eligible. That’s a very big deal for head coach Joe Moorhead and his program.
By Matt Zemek
Everyone knew this year would be worse than 2018. Last year, MSU had three top-27 NFL Draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. This year was going to provide tougher sledding. Making a bowl game and beating Ole Miss – which would be achieved at the same time – would make this 2019 regular season a success. This roster, or more precisely, its younger players, need bowl practices to move into spring ball and give Moorhead a chance to develop his offense, which really hasn’t happened this year. Moorhead has acknowledged the difficulty of coaching in the SEC. Getting some bowl practices is crucial in the attempt to develop players and make progress in creating more cohesion within the program.
Let’s see what matters most in the 2019 Egg Bowl for the Bulldogs:
1 – Containment
Ole Miss has found something at quarterback. John Rhys Plumlee has become a devastating runner, giving Ole Miss a spark the Rebels lacked earlier in the season. Containing Plumlee as a runner and being sound on defensive assignments must be the first priority for the MSU defense. This is the biggest overall key to the game, since Ole Miss shows a lot more upside on offense than MSU does. Mississippi State could play a moderately good game on offense, but it won’t matter if the Bulldogs can’t prevent Plumlee and Ole Miss from running wild. Mississippi State must lean on its defense in this game and get enough offense. It is not likely to win a shootout. That is the game Ole Miss would prefer.
2 – Broken plays
On offense and defense, this is a big-picture key to Thursday’s contest. Mississippi State’s offensive structure hasn’t schemed players open. Moorhead has been candid in acknowledging his struggles against SEC defenses. Maybe he will come up with the perfect plan against Ole Miss, and maybe his quarterbacks will play their very best. It would be great as they did. However, MSU generally doesn’t generate a lot of offensive production from its base packages or from first reads. Broken plays – which the quarterbacks can extend, or which running backs and create by avoiding tackles – might be MSU’s best hope of moving the ball.
On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Ole Miss’s emphasis on running the ball and having a running quarterback mean that MSU must be able to shut down plays before they can develop. Sure tackling against Plumlee will be essential.
3 – A stronger weakness
Mississippi State is not particularly good at throwing the ball, but the Bulldogs can’t junk the passing game. No, they shouldn’t try to rely on it, either, but the point of emphasis here is that MSU will have to have balance on offense. The Bulldogs don’t need a spectacular passing night, but they need a good one. MSU scored just 13 points against LSU earlier this season. Ole Miss scored 37. The Rebels have more potency; this is why MSU’s defense has to lead the way in the 2019 Egg Bowl. MSU does, however, need to hit a few long balls and get some chunk plays when opportunities emerge. This is how the Bulldogs can make their weakness much stronger. They will have to do that to beat the Rebels.