CATEGORY: FOC College Football

AUTHOR: PARRIS

HED:Bulldogs back in Top 25

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

Minutes after one of the biggest wins in Mississippi State history, not much was said about the next game, which now is even bigger.

Beating ninth-ranked Arkansas 22-21 at Scott Field Saturday clinched nothing for the Bulldogs.

But it kept them in control of the Southeastern Conference's Western Division race with only one game remaining.

"Last week was our biggest win ... now this. We beat a top 10 team at home when we had to do it. Now we just have to go finish things out," MSU coach Jackie Sherrill said. "I won't even talk about the next opponent right now. I'm going to enjoy this one."

Two states and a time zone away, Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville talked about the game.

"We'll have to play with a quarterback who has never taken a snap before against a defense like that. It will be interesting," Tuberville said.

Ole Miss quarterback Romaro Miller suffered a fractured collar bone on the final play of a 24-17 loss at Georgia. He will be out for at least six weeks, medical personnel said Saturday.

A rivalry that rarely needs fueling will have plenty of incentives for both teams when MSU and Ole Miss meet for the 95th time Thursday at 7 p.m. at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford before a national television audience on ESPN.

With State (7-3, 5-2 SEC) coming off a huge win, Ole Miss could hand the Bulldogs a crushing defeat. State needs only to beat the Rebels to clinch the Western Division title and a berth in the SEC Championship game against Tennessee Dec. 5 in Atlanta.

After Florida's loss to Florida State, a seventh win would go a long way in positioning the Rebels (6-4, 3-4) for a bowl.

Both MSU coach Jackie Sherrill and Tuberville stressed the importance of getting players healthy in the short week ahead. For Ole Miss that also means getting plenty of snaps for back-up quarterback David Morris, a walk-on from Mobile, Ala., who will start in place of Miller.

Another Mobile native will likely play a major part in the game's outcome.

MSU tailback James Johnson, the SEC's leading rusher, is expected to play against Ole Miss after sitting out most of the game against Arkansas with a pulled groin.

Johnson played on the game's first series and one play in the second half. He finished with 34 yards on six carries.

Saturday in postgame euphoria Johnson stood before television cameras -- where goalposts had stood moments before -- and pledged to be ready for the Rebels.

"We're focusing on the Egg Bowl now, and I'll be 100 percent for that game," he said. "No doubt about it."

Johnson was less than 100 percent when Ole Miss pulled off a stunning come-from-behind win over State in Starkville last year.

In a matchup of two of the SEC's top backs, Johnson had outrushed Ole Miss' John Avery.

But with the Bulldogs in run out the clock mode and driving the football, Johnson took himself out of the game with his wrist hurting.

State stalled, and the Rebels won with an improbable 64-yard drive which began with 2 minutes, 12 seconds to play. Ole Miss quarterback Stewart Patridge passed 10 yards to Andre Rone with 10 seconds left, cutting MSU's lead to 14-13.

Patridge then passed to Cory Peterson for the 2-point conversion, the decisive margin in a 15-14 win for the Rebels.

Johnson says last year's ending offers no extra motivation a year later.

"It really doesn't," he said. "That's just one of those things that happen in football."

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