In the midst of this heated rivalry between the two SEC teams in Mississippi was a cold, rainy and ugly game on Thanksgiving Day.
Ole Miss got off to a slow start on both sides of the ball, but as the game grew on, the Rebels stepped up their level of play and intensity to help secure the 31-21 victory against the Bulldogs.
With this win, Ole Miss finished with the best regular season record in school history at 10-2.
“Every coach always says, ‘this team’s a family’ and they say that every year and that’s not really true,” Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin said when asked about how this team felt special and like a family. “This is one of those unique years where they really are and they protect each other like that and play for each other like that.”
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral also explained why this year’s team is truly unique and one to remember.
“I couldn’t be more prouder than those guys just because they demanded more out of themselves and not only themselves but their teammates as well,” Corral said. “There’s this big camaraderie that we have of love and trust.”
It was an ugly first half for both teams, but Mississippi State’s last drive before halftime was the definition of sloppy football.
The Bulldogs drove it down the field into the red zone when three consecutive drops led to a 33 yard field goal attempt for kicker Nolan McCord. And yes, that field goal was missed wide right.
So, what led to all these dropped passes? Was it the rain? Was it the excitement and emotion? It’s difficult to answer, but you won’t hear any Rebel fans complaining as it secured the Ole Miss lead at halftime.
Corral played extremely well. Although his passing numbers didn’t pop off the stat sheet — 234 yards, one touchdown and an interception — he helped move the offense down the field using his versatility with his legs. Corral ran for 45 yards and a touchdown.
“Not only is this a big win for our rivalry and Ole Miss but us winning this game, we go down in history because Ole Miss has never had 10 regular season wins,” Corral said about the importance of winning the game. “It’s a good feeling when a program hasn’t done something in a very long time when you do it. But to do something that hasn’t been done ever in the history of this school, I think that’s something special and it speaks a lot for the people in this locker room.”
Aside from Corral, there were some other stars that shined for the Ole Miss offense.
Running back Snoop Conner ran for 49 yards and two touchdowns, and wide receiver Dontario Drummond caught a career-high 14 passes for 138 yards.
Ole Miss really stood their ground on defense as they gave up 21 points and forced Mississippi State to go just 4/14 on third downs.
Defensive lineman Sam Williams had a dominant showing defensively. Williams had five total tackles and two sacks, which brought his sack total to 12.5 on the season, ranking third in all of college football.
“We kind of saw that they were going to pass the ball. At first, we had to read run-pass but now, they gave us a green light,” Williams said about how the pass rush got better towards the end of the game. “That’s what I like. Just go. Okay, let’s do it.”
Kifffin also had praise for the way the defense performed.
“There was a major schematical change which was completely different,” Kiffin said when asked about how this year’s defense has been so much better than last year’s. “And players. You’ve got different players than a year ago out there too with Otis (Reese) and Mark (Robinson) and (Jake) Springer and Chance (Campbell). That’s a lot of guys right there.”
With this victory, Ole Miss is bound to compete in a New Year’s Six Bowl, possibly at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. But, what a great way to cap off a terrific season for the Rebels. After their first loss to Alabama, they displayed resilience and kept their foot on the pedal to finish out a truly remarkable and unforgettable season in Ole Miss football history.