oxford – Ole Miss FootballThe short, chaotic week seemed destined to end in great embarrassment for the rebels. Instead, it concluded with a vicious whack in the gut.
The Rebels suffered a 24-22 defeat against Mississippi State on Thursday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, with the game score decided by a failed two-point conversion attempt with 1:25 remaining at the end of a 99-yard Ole Miss touchdown drive only made possible by a fumble. Will Rogers goal line.
The score gave coach Lane Kiffin his first Egg Bowl defeat in three attempts. He ended Ole Miss’s dream of combining two 10-win seasons for the first time since 1959-60. And perhaps most importantly in a bitter rivalry like this, he sent fans wearing the Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4) colors home with 12 months of bragging rights.
On the first five carries of the second half, Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4 SEC) managed just 27 yards. These drives resulted in three hits, a spin on the downs, and a tumble. His last ride ended with a six, but the Rebels needed eight.
After taking a one-point lead with 13:46 to go via a field goal, the Bulldogs hit what turned out to be the decisive blow when Ole Miss secondary Rara Thomas lost with a left lateral line. He caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Will Rogers that put the Bulldogs up eight points—a hill too tall for a struggling Ole Miss offense to climb, despite Jaxson Dart’s late TD pass to Dayton Wade.
The Rebels miss a third quarter opportunity to extend the lead
Tavius Robinson was a force in Rogers’ face all night.
Midway through the third quarter, he made one of his most impactful plays, sacking Rogers and forcing the Rebels’ Cedric Johnson to punt. Taking over at the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line, the Rebels went up 16-14 with a chance to give their defense a cushion.
Ole Miss brought the ball to the MSU 6-yard line, and it stopped – another example of a red zone offense that Ole Miss has failed of late.
Needing two yards on fourth down, Kiffin elected to go for it. His gamble backfired, and the Rebels gave the ball back to the Bulldogs. Mississippi State immediately drove 78 yards to kick a field goal with 13:46 remaining which gave them their first lead since the 12:04 mark of the second quarter.
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A turnover sequence put Ole Miss up two notches, but the Bulldogs countered
Rogers entered the Egg Bowl with five interceptions on the year and only two in his last eight games.
The Rebels forced a big one out of it midway through the second quarter, when Otis Reese got his hands on a pass over the middle. That gave the Rebels the ball at their own 36-yard line, a huge field win after they had started their previous two drives inside of 15 yards.
Ole Miss then embarked on a 13-play, 64-yard drive that was completed with a fourth-and-goal pass from Dart to defensive tackle JJ Pegues.
It looked as if Ole Miss would go to half, but the Bulldogs responded, driving 75 yards in 1:47 to set up a 19-yard touchdown reception by Lideatrick Griffin with eight seconds left in the half.
The Rebels were forced to surrender field goals early
Perhaps the busiest Rebel during Thursday night’s contest third is kicker Jonathan Cruz.
Suffering from the same red zone problems that plagued it last weekend against Arkansas, Ole Miss struggled to convert its early total yardage advantage into points.
On two of their first three drives, the Rebels ventured into the Mississippi red zone and couldn’t hit it, calling Cruz short field goals.
On their fourth drive of the game, Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo dropped what was likely to be a touchdown pass over the middle of the field. The drive stalled, and Ole Miss brought Cruz onto the field again. He made a 49-yard delivery to give the Rebels a 9-7 lead early in the second frame.
With the regular season over, Ole Miss will find out the future of its bowl on Sunday, December 4th.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for Clarion Ledger. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on Twitter @davideckert98.
This article originally appeared on the Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Ole Miss football, Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin is in the Egg Bowl