STARKVILLE – Mississippi State coach Mike Leach must have felt like he was playing the Sam Williams version of “Where’s Waldo.”
Williams, second in the SEC and seventh nationally with just under a sack a game, had two of them in helping Ole Miss post a strong defensive effort and a 31-21 Egg Bowl win Thursday night.
Much of the game was played amid blowing light rain.
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin inherited an Ole Miss program not long removed from NCAA sanctions and struggling with apathy for the previous administration. Now the Rebels have won 14 of their last 17 games and have 10 wins in a regular season for the first time in their colorful history.
It wasn’t the most explosive night for the Ole Miss offense, making the defensive effort necessary.
Williams and his mates limited the Bulldogs to 420 total yards, 122 of that coming on their last two drives. Ole Miss led 31-13 and was willing to let State burn clock.
Rebels defensive coordinator DJ Durkin moved Williams around to various spots, at times lining him up against MSU left tackle Charles Cross.
Cross was a known commodity at the beginning of this season, and he’ll soon be able to afford as many tanks of gasoline as he’d like.
It’s Williams who needs this season to increase his earning potential, and nights like Thursday help him do just that.
That wasn’t his first such night.
Williams reached his last Egg Bowl 10½ sacks.
As is often the case, Williams was a disruptor at times when he didn’t make the tackle.
On two of the biggest Ole Miss defensive plays of this season – a failed two-point conversion attempt by Arkansas and a Rebels safety against Texas A&M – Williams blew up the play so others could make the tackle.
When the Bulldogs were threatening to cut into a 17-6 deficit in the third quarter Williams handled the finish himself.
MSU faced fourth-and-7 from the Ole Miss 33, and Williams got around right tackle Scott Lashley for his second sack of the night.
It was a strong sequence for the Ole Miss defense that sometimes got off the field even without a strong sequence … such as the final seconds of the first half when the Bulldogs dropped three-straight passes after reaching the Ole Miss 5. There was a holding call in there too.
The threat ended when Nolan McCord missed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide right.
State, which received the second half kick, also whiffed on the back end of a possible “two-fer” on its first possession of the third quarter when Williams beat Lashley, and his teammate, Cedric Johnson, was in position to stop running back Dillon Johnson for a 5-yard loss on the resulting check-down.
And so it went.
Linebacker Chance Campbell batted down a fourth down pass from Rogers in the early minutes of the fourth, and the Bulldogs’ window closed tighter.
Thanks in part of an interception by MSU linebacker the Jett Johnson, the former Tupelo standout, the Bulldogs put some points on the board late, but the game felt like 2015 when the Rebels also coasted after a big lead and used the Egg Bowl to launch to a New Year's Six bowl game.