It’s been a tough year for the University of Mississippi and Ole Miss, who entered 2017 ranked just No. 7 in the AP Poll after back-to-back 11 win seasons. The Rebels have lost three straight games to Alabama twice, while their remaining schedule includes six top 10 teams on the road. Yet despite these challenges, Ole Miss is 8-2 overall with an outside chance at finishing 9th or better in both major polls this year..
The “egg bowl” is a rivalry game between the University of Mississippi and Ole Miss. It has been played annually since 1938, but it has recently taken on new life due to the coaching changes by Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin.
When Jackie Sherrill was appointed as Mississippi State’s coach in 1991, former Ole Miss coach Billy Brewer welcomed him to the Egg Bowl rivalry by labeling him a “habitual liar.”
The slur originated from Brewer’s belief that the Bulldogs were using unethical recruitment practices. He said Sherrill called a former Ole Miss quarterback who had transferred to Texas A&M and recruited his assistance in attempting to persuade a Black recruit to leave the Rebels. Brewer was penalized by the SEC for his comments.
At SEC Media Days that year, Brewer remarked, “I haven’t talked with the Reverend Sherrill.” “I’m not sure if he has my phone number, and I’m not sure if I have his.”
The Egg Bowl lacks the pomp and circumstance of Army-Navy, the national championship stakes of the Iron Bowl, or the regional significance of “The Game,” which pits Michigan and Ohio State against one other. In reality, the Egg Bowl has only been played once, in 1941, when both the Bulldogs and the Rebels were still in contention for the SEC title.
Probably that’s why Sports Illustrated termed the Egg Bowl “perhaps the worst rivalry in all of Division I, a war for pride in a state where pride comes hard, then runs too deep and stays too long” in 1991, after the Bulldogs beat the Rebels 24-9 in Sherrill’s first season.
It’s just the only college football game to watch on Thanksgiving night for most people outside of Mississippi (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN App). However, for residents of Mississippi, it is still the only game that counts. For a long time, the rivalry was about pulling the other team down as much as it was about winning.
In 2017, ESPN quoted Steve Robertson, an author and reporter who has followed the Bulldogs since 2001 “It’s the SEC West’s two runt pups vying for the back teat. When you finally get your hands on that back teat, you’ll do whatever it takes to keep it, even if it means starving the other man.”
Make no mistake: there is a lot of hatred amongst the schools, and it frequently comes from the top. Sherrill refused to refer to his team’s largest adversary by its preferred moniker throughout his 13 years as MSU’s coach, from 1991 to 2003. Dan Mullen, a former Bulldogs coach, simply called it “The School Up North.” Mullen’s team stepped over Rebels jerseys taped on the locker room floor before his first Egg Bowl game in 2009.
Mississippi State’s baseball field is named after C.R. “Dudy” Noble, who played four sports at the Bulldogs and subsequently coached at Ole Miss from 1917 to 1919. He famously said to a newspaper reporter once: “I’ve already seen hell. I used to coach at Ole Miss.”
“You learn to hate Ole Miss when you’re at Mississippi State,” former Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom told Sports Illustrated in 2018.
Not any longer.
The Egg Bowl seems to have significantly less venom than normal, with two outsiders leading Ole Miss and Mississippi State into Thursday night’s matchup at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach appeared at the proper moment for the Egg Bowl, just as the Middle East needed Jimmy Carter and Drake and Kanye needed J. Prince.
This week, Kiffin stated, “Someone commented the other day [that] we sort of don’t make sense to be here.” “We get along swimmingly. Perhaps we were come here to unite a state. It’s football after all. You shouldn’t despise someone just because they attended a certain institution.”
With the Egg Bowl approaching, Lane Kiffin of No. 12 Ole Miss addresses Mike Leach of No. 25 Mississippi State’s long-term success with a “basic” game plan.
The circumstances that led to Kiffin and Leach teaching in Mississippi could only have happened in an unexpected rivalry like the Egg Bowl. In the 2019 version, Rebels receiver Elijah Moore grabbed a two-yard touchdown with four seconds left in a shocking chain of events that are still remembered by State supporters as “Piss and Miss.” He went on all fours in the end zone after scoring, raised his leg, and pretended to pee like a dog. The Rebels failed a 35-yard extra point try after a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the Bulldogs won the game 21-20.
Ole Miss sacked coach Matt Luke three days later, and Kiffin was hired from Florida Atlantic. After losing to Louisville in the Music City Bowl a month later, the Bulldogs dismissed coach Joe Moorhead and recruited Leach away from Washington State.
Kiffin and Leach have exchanged more accolades than barbs since their arrival in the state. On Nov. 13, Kiffin was the guest picker when the Rebels hosted ESPN’s College GameDay broadcast in their famed Grove. When asked to select between Mississippi State and Auburn, Kiffin said, “Mike Leach is the finest offensive coordinator in the United States. Mississippi State is my choice.” The fans at home booed his response.
Leach, who coached against Kiffin’s teams at USC in 2012-13, refused to get drawn in.
“He’s laying the groundwork for a fantastic Egg Bowl,” Leach remarked at the time. “I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t believe he’s the finest offensive coordinator in the league. It was self-effacing of him to say… We’ll simply keep letting the love flow in both ways.”
In fact, both offenses have been excellent. The Rebels, headed by Heisman Trophy contender Matt Corral, are averaging 36.4 points per game and top the SEC in both running and overall offense (230.6 yards) (517.5 yards). The Bulldogs score 31.8 points per game on average and top the league in passing (390.4 yards). Will Rogers, a sophomore at MSU, leads the conference in passing yards per game, averaging 374.1 yards per game while completing 76.1 percent of his passes for 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Leach’s version of the Air Raid offense is still going strong in his 20th season as a head coach. Georgia has attempted 593 passes, which is 51 more than any other FBS team.
“It’s just incredible. It’s the polar opposite of what you’d expect “According to Kiffin. “I believe there was a perception among many people, including coaches, that the SEC had figured it out last year and that it slowed them down for sections of the season. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, since they’ve returned to square one.”
When the two coaches battled on the West Coast, Kiffin noted it was the same offense Leach was running.
“You usually don’t stay up with the game if you don’t develop,” Kiffin said. “You’ve been fired. You are passed over. That’s why, for the most part, people aren’t huddling and running I-formation football anymore. But he came up with something that continues functioning that he came up with a long time ago.”
Ole Miss can win 10 games in the regular season for the first time in school history and remain in the race for a New Year’s Six bowl game with a win in the Egg Bowl. Mississippi State has won four of its previous five games, is bowl eligible, and would love to derail its rival’s playoff ambitions. Last season, the Bulldogs were defeated 31-24 by the Rebels.
“I’ve been waiting for this week for whatever many days it’s been since I threw a Hail Mary [on] the game’s last play last year,” Rogers told reporters on Monday. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”
Everyone else in the state has, too, even if their coaches are on better terms than in the past.
“I believe they genuinely like each other,” said Rick Cleveland, a columnist for Mississippi Today who has covered college football in Mississippi for over four decades. “I don’t believe that will affect the competition in the long run. I don’t believe Mississippi State and Ole Miss supporters will suddenly become friends. I believe the animosity will outlast Kiffin and Leach’s time in Mississippi.”
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