Mullen discusses dynamics of Egg Bowl

Dan Mullen and the Golden Egg Trophy
Staff Writer

Over the last few years, the Mississippi State-Ole Miss football rivalry has, at times, more closely followed the plot of a soap opera as opposed to just a run-of-the-mill clash on the gridiron.

Ole Miss has been mired in an NCAA investigation. An Oxford-based business has sued MSU players Leo Lewis and Kobe Jones. Former Rebel coach Hugh Freeze saw his tenure with Ole Miss end over the summer due to inappropriate behavior.

Through it all, fans of the two schools have used social media and the internet to get on each others’ cases.

With the annual Battle for the Golden Egg slated for this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. though, MSU head coach Dan Mullen said there isn’t really all that much drama inside the locker rooms.

“I don’t see that,” Mullen said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “I think there are distracting things that people outside of the programs have brought on, but I don’t think within the teams that all that has a huge effect. You’re talking about guys on the team that played each other in high school and knew each other through recruiting and high school.”

Mullen’s claims might seem wild to fans so intensely invested in the rivalry. It may seem unfathomable that the players avoid all the social media back-and-forth that goes on, but there is some substance to what Mullen says.

MSU’s roster has 48 players from the state of Mississippi. Ole Miss’ has 35. Many of those individuals had relationships long before signing with their respective schools. Some, like Ole Miss wide receiver and former Starkville High star A.J. Brown and MSU players Willie Gay, Jr. and Jones, were high school teammates.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t at least some animosity. It is a big-time rivalry game that each team wants to win. However Mullen insists much of what goes on is more fan-centric than anything else.

“I think all that happens a lot more on the message boards,” Mullen said. “I think that’s much more with the passion of the fans off the field and that sort of stuff more than the game itself.”

Both schools made a plea on Monday for fans to behave themselves at the Egg Bowl. A statement was released jointly by MSU athletic director John Cohen and Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork pleading for fans to practice sportsmanship and enjoy “the tradition of the Egg Bowl in a respectful and positive manner.”

After all that has gone on the last few years, that might be easier said than done for some fans.

As for Mullen’s team, make no mistake about it. Mullen doesn’t want his guys oblivious to the importance of the Egg Bowl. He doesn’t think that’ll be a problem.

“I want (our players) to embrace it and I don’t have to worry about that,” Mullen said. “It’s not just another game. Rivalry games just aren’t. It’s an important game for everybody. I don’t even have to bring it up. The guys know. We treat everything a little differently this week.”

Injury updates

Mississippi State senior wide receiver Donald Gray’s Bulldog career is done.

Mullen announced on Monday that Gray will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia last week.

Gray is MSU’s leading receiver this season with 214 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He accumulated those totals despite missing the last three games after getting injured on Oct. 28 at Texas A&M.

While Gray certainly won’t play Thursday against Ole Miss, senior linebacker Dez Harris is also likely to miss the game against the Rebels. Harris suffered a thigh bruise against Alabama two weeks ago which led to other complications.

Two wide receivers might get back on the field for the Bulldogs against the Rebels though. Keith Mixon is expected to return after missing the Arkansas game with an ankle injury, while Mullen said there is at least a possibility Gabe Myles could be back for the first time since MSU’s Oct. 21 contest against Kentucky. The former Starkville High School player has been dealing with a foot injury.

Honors handed out

Montez Sweat is making a habit out of winning the Southeastern Conference Defensive Lineman of the Week award.

The junior earned the honor for the third time this season on Monday after a dominating performance at Arkansas last Saturday.

Against the Razorbacks, Sweat had four tackles and a career-high 2.5 sacks. Sweat now has nine sacks this year, which is currently tied for the most in a single season by any Bulldog in the last 12 years.

Junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald also was honored on Monday as he was selected a finalist for the Conerly Trophy, which is given annually to the most outstanding college football player in the state of Mississippi. Nine other finalists for the award were also listed, including Ole Miss receiver and former Starkville High player A.J. Brown.

This season, Fitzgerald has once again proving to be one of the nation’s top dual-threat signal callers. Fitzgerald has passed for 1,770 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He has rushed for 968 yards and 14 scores.

The winner of the Conerly Trophy will be presented on Nov. 28.