OXFORD, Miss. — The Egg Bowl is going to Egg Bowl.
On the annual Thanksgiving meeting between Mississippi State football and Ole Miss, one thing was certain: This rivalry was going to provide excitement once more.
Such was the case Thursday in the 95th edition of the matchup, and it was MSU (8-4, 4-4 SEC) finding a way to pull out a 24-22 win.
Mike Leach, behind a two-point conversion stop with 1:25 remaining in the game, has his first Egg Bowl win against Lane Kiffin.
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Opening drive met with silence
Mississippi State, after allowing an Ole Miss field goal on the opening drive, responded immediately. The Bulldogs went 61 yards on 10 plays — six passes and four runs — on their opening drive to take a 7-3 lead.
The early success was met by gruesome struggles.
MSU had negative-three yards in its ensuing four drives. Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4) brought pressure on quarterback Will Rogers without designed blitzes. Often times, it only took a three-man rush as the coverage remained tight and forced Rogers to hold onto the ball. The Bulldogs only called five designed runs on those four drives. One of those came on a third-and-34.
The fifth drive after the opening touchdown ended with a Rogers interception.
The short offensive drives forced MSU’s defense onto the field repeatedly. The Bulldogs were able to limit the Rebels to three field goals for most of the half before Ole Miss finally broke through for a second quarter touchdown.
Lideatrick Griffin gets his revenge
Last season, Mississippi State had a brutal sequence just before halftime.
Jo’quavious Marks dropped a touchdown pass on first-and-goal with 44 seconds left and MSU trailing 10-6. He dropped another touchdown pass on the next play. Then, receiver Lideatrick Griffin dropped a touchdown pass.
MSU was forced to kick a field goal, which Nolan McCord missed.
The Bulldogs flipped the script in Oxford, with Griffin getting his revenge. After Ole Miss’ touchdown to go up 16-7, MSU had a 12-play, 75-yard drive to bring the game within two going into halftime.
The drive was capped by Griffin catching a 19-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10.
Rogers was 8-10 on the drive with 67 passing yards.
Defense keeps MSU alive
The late first-half touchdown drive did not translate to success in the second half.
Mississippi State opened the second half with a turnover on downs with Rogers scrambling out of bounds well short of the line to gain on the final play. The next drive went negative-six yards. The third drive of the second half lasted one play with Rogers fumbling and giving the ball to Ole Miss in MSU territory.
The defense kept it from spiraling out of control for the Bulldogs.
Ole Miss went 30 yards to get the ball inside the MSU five-yard line after the Rogers fumble. That’s where, on a fourth-and-1, linebacker Tyrus Wheat broke into the backfield to get a rush on Dart and force an incomplete pass.
On their first four red zone trips, the Rebels only scored one touchdown.
Mississippi State kicking comes up clutch
MSU’s kicking woes during Leach’s tenure are well-documented. Massimo Biscardi broke the spell with a clutch field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Rogers scrambled on a third down and came up a yard short of the first down. Leach elected to attempt a 34-yard field goal, and it proved worthy.
Biscardi split the uprights to give MSU a 17-16 lead — its first lead since early in the second quarter. A Rara Thomas touchdown midway through the fourth proved to be the winning score.
MSU now waits to see which bowl game it will participate in. The College Football Playoff committee will announce its final rankings at 11 am on Dec. 4. The bowl announcements will follow shortly after.
Projections suggest MSU could be in a variety of games, ranging from the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, to the Vegas Bowl.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: How Mississippi State’s Mike Leach picked up Egg Bowl win vs. Ole Miss