In a rivalry game that lacked much of the offensive prowess Ole Miss displayed this season, the Rebels ground out a 17-7 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Because the Egg Bowl often gets weird, Will Rogers was the healthiest quarterback on the field Thursday night.
It was not enough.
No. 12 Ole Miss got 119 yards on 28 carries from Quinshon Judkins to knock off Mississippi State 17-7 and secure 10 regular season wins for the second time in three seasons.
Rogers sustained an injury to his non-throwing shoulder on Oct. 7, and State’s season went off the rails, so much so that head coach Zach Arnett was fired.
On paper it looked like the Rebels’ offense, more diverse than last year when the Bulldogs held the vaunted Ole Miss run game to fewer than 100 yards, would be able to take advantage of an MSU defense that has given up big plays in most games this season.
Those big plays never came for Ole Miss.
The first half of football in Starkville Thursday night was a tale of defense and punts. The Rebels led just 3-0 at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Mississippi State took the lead, 7-3, after a 1-yard touchdown run by Rogers.
Rogers had his health but didn’t have his moxie. He was rusty in his return against Southern Miss last Saturday and faced a short week to get ready for the real in-state rivals.
Even when healthy this season, Rogers struggled against the SEC’s better teams like LSU and Alabama.
And Ole Miss played like one of those teams defensively as it held State to 96 rushing yards with just 3.3 yards per carry from running back Woody Marks.
Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart went to the injury tent in the first quarter and emerged with his ankle heavily taped.
Later Dart left the game after taking a hit to the head from Mississippi State defensive back DeShawn Page.
The hit on Dart drew a targeting call, which served as a needed boost for Ole Miss. The Rebels leaned heavy into Judkins on the same drive. He would punch the ball in the endzone from a yard out and the Rebels wouldn’t trail again.
“We played great defense the whole night, and we played really well running the ball in the second half,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said.
The Rebels ran for 211 yards, sealing it on fourth-and-1 run by J.J.Pegues. Dart was selective but effective. Ulysses Bentley added 63 yards on 10 carries.
Judkins upped his season total to 1,061 yards, the second thousand-yard season for the sophomore. He never ripped off a big gainer, but the threat was always there.
The Bulldogs respected that threat, respected it too much in fact on third-and-2 from the MSU 26 early in the fourth quarter. Three MSU linebackers rushed the line of scrimmage, and Dart threw over the top to tight end Caden Prieskorn, who rumbled into the endzone without a Bulldog defender within shouting distance.
Prieskorn’s touchdown gave the Rebels a two-score lead. There was lots of football to play, but the Bulldogs didn’t have the look of a comeback offense. They weren’t.
“Everybody came into this game with a chip on their shoulder,” Judkins said. “Those guys on the Mississippi State side, stunted a lot and plugged the hole, but we kept running the ball.”
Many thought Kiffin would be a short-timer at Ole Miss, and his name has been connected with other jobs each season, even this one.
But at the moment he appears on track for a fifth season in Oxford with his quarterback and other key components coming back in 2024.
He’s 3-1 in Egg Bowls and while he’s glad to have the trophy back on his campus he seemed almost OK with the one that got away in what turned out to be the last game coached by Mike Leach.
“That was Coach Leach’s last game. I miss him, but maybe it was meant to be. I’m glad we got it back, and I hope we keep it a while,” said Kiffin after the game.