Hugh Freeze finds his team in a position it hasn’t been in since his first year at Ole Miss, and that is needing an Egg Bowl win to become bowl eligible. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Rebels, who sit at 5-6 after being blown out against Vanderbilt 38-17 in Nashville, Tennessee, last Saturday night. Freeze addressed that game, the Egg Bowl and more in his Monday press conference.
“It’s a game that means an extraordinary amount to our university, our fan base and theirs,” Freeze said. “It is going to be a great challenge. Obviously, we have had a lot of adversity throughout the course of this year. To prepare and try to gain a sixth win and gain bowl eligibility against your rival in-state, these games are always quite interesting, regardless of records, and will be highly competitive. I know this one will be no different.”
For all of its struggles this year, Mississippi State’s offense is playing with a lot of confidence. The Bulldogs blew out Texas A&M a couple weeks ago and dropped 42 points on Arkansas last week. Nick Fitzgerald is playing with a lot of confidence. He went 23-33 last week for 328 yards and two scores against the Razorbacks and will provide a tough challenge for an Ole Miss defense that has struggled mightily this season.
“It’s a good scheme, and their quarterback is playing at really high level with skilled receivers,” Freeze said.
Defensively, Mississippi State has struggled like Ole Miss, and in a game where all signs point to a shootout, Freeze emphasized efficiency in the red zone for his offense led by freshman Shea Patterson.
“They’ve given up yards and points, as have we. We’ve got to be sure we are scoring touchdowns in the red zone when we get those opportunities,” Freeze said.
Ole Miss will honor its seniors on Saturday, a group of men who have drastically changed the perception and expectations of Ole Miss football in their time in Oxford.
“There is no doubt in our mind that they have rejuvenated and made Ole Miss football relevant again,” Freeze said.
With as many young guys as Ole Miss plays, Freeze said he will emphasize the importance of this game for the senior class and getting them to a bowl game to send them out on a good note.
It will be game three of the Patterson era against the Bulldogs. The freshman burst onto the scene in dramatic fashion in College Station two weeks ago but fell back down to earth a bit after facing a somewhat under-appreciated Vanderbilt defense.
“I think he’s about where you’d expect any freshman would be that came out this late in the season. He had a great game at Texas A&M by many people’s standard. But we watched the film and see there are some things he still doesn’t quite understand,” Freeze said. “The Vanderbilt game there was some of that also, but he also had about 10 drops.”
Freeze said that with classes not being in session this week that Patterson will be able to get some extra film study in, which will help in preparation for his first Egg Bowl/.
Ole Miss is banged up at many positions. Freeze said that freshman running back D’ Vaughn Pennamon and wide receiver Damarkus Lodge will not play in the regular season finale. Lodge played in the first half in Nashville, but was unable to return to the field for the second half.
A.J. Brown will try to play, and that senior tight end Evan Engram and defensive tackle Issac Gross will be game time decisions. Engram caught six balls for 102 yards and a score in the loss at Vandy. Gross did not play in the second half due to a strained neck.
Freeze also added that offensive linemen Robert Conyers and Sean Rawlings will “try their best to give it a go.”
Damore’ea Stringfellow had his hand stepped on in practice last week, which Freeze said bothered him against Vanderbilt. He will also try to play this week.