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The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Mississippi State falls behind early, rally falls short in 2017 Egg Bowl

Noah Siano | The Reflector
Mississippi State falls behind early, rally falls short in 2017 Egg Bowl

Going into the Egg Bowl, most predicted No.14 Mississippi State University to take home the trophy once again in a dominant fashion against the University of Mississippi; that being said, rivalry games rarely go as predicted.

Ole Miss (6-6,3-5 SEC) came out of the gate swinging, hitting wide receiver and Starkville-native A.J. Brown for a 58-yard pass. The Rebels scored on the next play, taking an early lead, that they would eventually expand to 24-6 before MSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) would start closing the gap.

MSU did not go down easily, fighting back in the fourth quarter and getting within three when it was all said and done, leaving the closing score 31-28 Ole Miss when the final whistle blew.

Ole Miss was led by Brown, who caught six passes for 167 yards and one touchdown. Ole Miss running back Jordan Wilkins ran the ball 14 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. MSU was led by running backs Aeris Williams and Kylin Hill. Williams ran the ball 20 times for 84 yards, Hill ran the ball 13 times for 83 yards and a touchdown.

On defense MSU was led by linebacker Erroll Thompson, who had five tackles and 1.5 sacks, and also forced one fumble. Safety Johnathan Abram led the team in tackles with eight and defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons blocked a punt.

Devastating injury changes game for MSU

The play that changed the game was not Brown’s 77-yard touchdown catch or Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf’s 63-yard touchdown catch or even MSU running back Kylin Hill’s 30-yard touchdown run. It was a 3-yard run by MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald on MSU’s second drive of the game.

Why was the play was so detrimental? Because Fitzgerald dislocated his ankle in gruesome fashion on the play, causing MSU to lose the key cog who made their offense run all season long.

Fitzgerald’s replacement was true freshman Keytaon Thompson, of New Orleans, Louisiana, whose only game experience up to this point had been in spot single play replacement of Fitzgerald or mop-up duty in garbage time of blowouts.  

Keytaon Thompson talked about the message Fitzgerald gave him as he was carted off the field.

“Nick was just encouraging me to lead the team and step up,” Keytaon Thompson said. “He told me I had all the ability to do so. He just wanted me to ball out.”

Keytaon Thompson struggled early but put up impressive numbers. He went 13-27 through the air for 195 yards and one touchdown and one interception. He ran the ball 26 times for 121 yards and one touchdown.

“I learned a lot throughout the game,” Keytaon Thompson said. “I felt like I got better as the game went on. I just learned from mistakes and learned what you can and can’t do and the certain shots to take.”

Turnovers the key stat of the game

You pull someone off the street and tell them team A has 501 total yards, 27 first downs, went 7-19 on third down and held the ball for 37:30. Then you tell them team B only had 355 total yards, 11 first downs, went 2-12 on third down and held the ball for 22:30, and then asked them which team would win?

They would pick team A every time. Team A is MSU and team B is Ole Miss, the missing stat from this game? MSU turned the ball over five times while Ole Miss had two turnovers.

Worse yet was the timing of the turnovers. Whenever MSU started to gain some momentum and get things going, they would turn the ball over and give all the momentum back to Ole Miss.

One team can out gain and outplay the other, but if they turn the ball over as much as MSU did Thursday night, they gain nothing from the gained yards. At the end of the game, of all the stats that are most key to winning, Ole Miss won the two biggest stats, turnovers and the biggest stat of the game, points.

“You are not going to win many games when you turn the ball over five times,” Mullen said. “If you look at the statline, you are hard pressed to think we did not win the game unless you look at the turnovers and explosive plays.”

Mullen addresses the future

Rumors are swirling about Mullen towards the end of tonight’s game, with multiple respected national reporters tweeting that this was his last game at MSU. Over the past couple weeks Mullen has been linked to jobs at both the University of Florida and the University of Tennessee, but nothing concrete has come of it.

In the post game presser of Thursday’s game, Mullen was asked about coaching at MSU next year.

“I plan on it,” Mullen said. “As I have said, I am very very happy here. I am happy with what we have built, we have a great president and a great adminstration. You look at the fanbase that we have here and the program that we have built. I think it is pretty special.”

MSU will await their bowl fate, but Thompson will be the starter for whatever bowl game MSU ends up with. This loss means they lose their shot at the Citrus Bowl and are probably looking at the Music City Bowl, Belk Bowl and at worst the Liberty Bowl.

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Mississippi State falls behind early, rally falls short in 2017 Egg Bowl