STARKVILLE • Mississippi State gained bowl eligibility in the sweetest of fashions.
The Bulldogs stymied the SEC’s best rushing attack and retained the Egg Bowl trophy with a 21-20 win over Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night.
MSU (6-6, 3-5 SEC) is bowl eligible for the 10th-straight year. For second-year coach Joe Moorhead, Thursday’s win is “an exclamation point” on the state of the program amid rumors of his job security.
“Just make sure that everybody understands, this is my school, this is my team, this is my program,” Moorhead said. “I’m not interested in anybody’s validation except the guys in that locker room.”
A tough season for the Rebels (4-8, 2-6) ended in the most frustrating of ways. Ole Miss scored a touchdown with 4 seconds left when Matt Corral hit Elijah Moore from 2 yards.
Moore then celebrated by pretending to urinate like a dog, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Luke Logan’s point-after kick, from 35 yards, missed wide right.
“That’s not who we are,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said of Moore’s actions. “We’ve been a disciplined team all year. Just disappointed that happened.”
Also disappointing to Luke was his team’s run game. Ole Miss entered the Egg Bowl averaging 261.5 yards per game on the ground, and it had topped 400 in each of the last two games.
Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee has spearheaded that rushing attack, but he was held to 34 yards – 89 yards below his average – on 18 carries. The Rebels totaled 139 yards on the ground and averaged 2.96 yards per carry.
Scheming up a win
“We just had to get numbers in the box, mix up our coverages, mix up our pressures,” Moorhead said. “For the most part I thought we tackled well. We got the ball on the ground, got off the field on third down.”
The game was tied 14-14 at halftime, but MSU changed that after recovering a Plumlee fumble. The Bulldogs covered 40 yards in seven plays, with Garrett Shrader scoring on a 5-yard run with 3:24 left in the third quarter.
Shrader, starting for an injured Tommy Stevens, had a solid night. The true freshman completed 10 of 14 passes for 108 yards.
Tailback Kylin Hill was a workhorse, toting it 27 times for 132 yards. MSU finished with 210 rushing yards.
Ole Miss, meanwhile, sputtered on offense after halftime. Corral relieved Plumlee midway through the fourth quarter and was intercepted by Marcus Murphy at MSU’s 5-yard line on his third pass attempt.
The Rebels committed three turnovers on the night.
“They did a job of mixing up pressures, but the biggest thing that hurt was turnovers,” Luke said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Shrader’s arm powered MSU’s first scoring drive, which took only four plays. He had two passes of 20 or more yards, and then Nick Gibson capped it with a 27-yard run.
It was Hill’s turn to shine on the Bulldogs’ next possession. He had 10 carries for 59 yards on the drive, which Shrader finished off with a 1-yard run after faking the handoff to Hill.
It was 14-0 with 11:22 left in the second quarter, and MSU appeared in control.
But Plumlee responded by leading a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive. He completed 3 of 3 passes for 70 yards and scored on a 2-yard keeper.
A special teams miscue gave Ole Miss a short field late in the half. MSU punter Tucker Day dropped the snap and then tried to run for a first down, but he was stopped well short.
Plumlee scrambled for 11 yards on a fourth-and-3 to keep the Rebels’ ensuing drive alive, and Jerrion Ealy’s 6-yard touchdown run tied the game with 34 seconds left in the half.