With plenty of credit to go around on his potentially record-setting Ole Miss football team, coach Lane Kiffin will turn to his main guy Thursday night in the regular season’s biggest game.
Kiffin will take quarterback Matt Corral and the rest of the Rebels south to Starkville to play Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, the state’s annual Thanksgiving matchup between the Southeastern Conference rivals.
Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) — which moved up three spots to No. 9 Tuesday in the latest College Football Playoff rankings — is on the cusp of greatness as the season winds down, with a chance to post the highest regular-season win total in school history.
While the program owns seven career 10-win campaigns — most recently Hugh Freeze’s 10-3 showing in 2015 — all seven featured nine victories in the regular season and win No. 10 in a bowl game.
Kiffin said the Rebels simply would not be in the position they are without the junior signal-caller, who will enter the NFL draft next spring.
“I think I get a lot of credit for coming in here and what’s happened and the change and wins and losses and all that stuff — compared to where it was before,” Kiffin said. “I would argue that he deserves more credit than me for that as the head coach versus the quarterback.
“This guy is there when I’m not even in there — summer workouts. … I think he’s had a lot to do with changing the mindset of the people around here.”
Corral is 233 of 345 for 3,100 yards passing in a season that has vaulted him into the Heisman race.
He has thrown for 19 touchdowns, rushed for 10 and tossed just three interceptions.
Ole Miss owns a 63-46-6 advantage in the longstanding rivalry.
In Starkville, coach Mike Leach witnessed his squad shake off a slow start and start cruising through the air.
“We’re getting better,” Leach said. “We’re a different team than we were early in the season.”
The Bulldogs (7-4, 4-3) opened the season by rallying and holding off Louisiana Tech 35-34 at home.
They lost by a combined five points at Memphis and home against LSU — two winnable games the Bulldogs would love do-overs in.
However, they earned wins in five of the next seven, including an amazing comeback in a 43-34 upset at Auburn in which the Bulldogs reeled off 40 unanswered points.
No player in the nation has put up the numbers Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has in his past nine outings.
The sophomore has eclipsed 300 passing yards in each contest — more than 400 yards in four of them — during the Bulldogs’ hot streak.
The Brandon, Miss., native is 435-for-572 for 4,113 yards with 34 TD passes and eight interceptions.
“I kind of grew up an Ole Miss fan with my dad going there, my sister went there, so yeah, tables have turned a little bit,” Rogers said. “It’s a huge game because you know what’s at stake.”
Top receiver Makai Polk is 109 yards short of a 1,000-yard season and has nine TDs.
Rebels running back Jerrion Ealy provided the week’s best-bulletin board material in the heated rivalry.
“You’re going to hate the sound of cowbells,” said Ealy, who leads Ole Miss with 643 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. “You’re probably going to hear cowbells for two weeks after the game.
“It’s Stinkville to me. It stinks there. I don’t like mud. It’s just so muddy. I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”
–Field Level Media