New week begins as Mississippi State football looks to eliminate sting of Egg Bowl losses

Stefan Krajisnik
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

STARKVILLE — Mississippi State football quarterback Will Rogers embraced the role of being a college sport fan Saturday night.

He wasn't in Starkville’s Cotton District celebrating the 56-7 win against East Tennessee State. He was perched in his apartment, where he rooms with wide receiver Austin Williams and backup quarterback Chance Lovertich, and tuned into SEC Network at 6:30 p.m.

Ole Miss played Arkansas, and for Rogers that was a chance at watching live film and a 42-27 drubbing by the Razorbacks.

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Saturday was never about beating ETSU (3-8). It was about taking care of business, as coach Mike Leach said postgame, getting home and starting Egg Bowl Week.

“This is the game that everybody thinks about every year,” Rogers said. “It doesn’t matter where we play it. It doesn’t matter who’s ranked higher or whatever the record is.”

The table is set for a thrilling Thanksgiving Day matchup even after the Rebels’ loss to the Razorbacks.

Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4 SEC) doesn’t want to end with back-to-back seven win seasons after returning the most starters in the SEC. Leach doesn’t want to go 0-3 in the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin.

Rogers doesn’t want to spend another offseason with the sour taste of losing to the school he grew up rooting for but never was offered to play at.

When he stood in MSU’s pressroom following last season’s 31-21 loss to Ole Miss, he said it would sting for 365 days. Another year of that pain will only be met with more pressure from those wearing maroon and white.

“It’s the biggest game of the year every year,” Rogers said.

Nov 19, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA;Mississippi State Bulldogs players react after the game against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers  at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The same is understood on the defensive side of the ball, where players such as linebacker and Tupelo native Jett Johnson grew up spending the holiday surrounding the TV or sitting in the stands.

“It’s a terrible feeling,” Johnson said of losing to Ole Miss. “You don’t want to mimic that feeling anymore.”

Mississippi State has inadvertently spent much of the season preparing for this game. When watching film to prepare for teams such as Kentucky and Auburn, Ole Miss was on the opposing side.

Leach mentioned that much of the past week was spent watching Ole Miss film as well with the short week looming. What game plan comes out of the preparation will weigh heavily on how Leach is viewed heading into next season.

A win continues MSU’s upward trajectory with Leach despite a tougher schedule this season. It also would give MSU and Ole Miss identical records at the end of the regular season.

A loss leaves MSU fans wondering how a season with high expectations resulted in little improvement. It would also brings Leach’s record to 0-10 in his last 10 rivalry games dating back to his tenure at Washington State.

“We’re just excited to play the game,” Leach says. “The biggest thing is just doing the best you can and being the best team you can be and leave it at that. Otherwise, if you distract yourself with a bunch of other stuff, you’re not going to help your approach.”

If fans held the same approach, rivalry games wouldn’t be what they are. To fans, the Egg Bowl is more than MSU executing out routes or blitzes.

It’s a chance at bragging rights at the dinner table. It’s reason to believe your program is one step closer to bringing a national championship to the Magnolia State than the other. It’s the game circled multiple times on the calendar.

The race to Thanksgiving has begun, and Mississippi State got a four-hour head start thanks to its morning kickoff and FCS opponent. Thursday's final score will determine if it was worthwhile.

“We’re very hungry,” Johnson said.

Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at skrajisnik@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3.