Lane Kiffin isn’t usually one to mince words, but his description of the Egg Bowl is definitely on the diplomatic side.
Kiffin and No. 20 Mississippi (8-3, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) will seek their third straight win over Mississippi State (7-4, 3-4) in a not-always-polite rivalry on Thursday. To put it diplomatically.
“I think there doesn’t seem to be a lot of love in the relationship,” Kiffin said. “It’s a nice way of putting it, but it means a lot to a lot of people.”
It’s Round 3 for Kiffin vs. Mike Leach, both of whom have updated their flagging programs at Magnolia State. In this case, Quinshon Judkins and the nation’s No. 3 rushing team (Ole Miss) take on Will Rogers and the ninth-best passing offense.
Both styles have hauled plenty of yards, but the late-season dips impacted both teams. Ole Miss has lost three out of four, with losses to top-10 teams LSU and Alabama, but also to Arkansas.
The Bulldogs returned to the track from their own 1-3 stretch with a 56-7 win over East Tennessee State.
The Bulldogs are now looking to end their recent struggles against Ole Miss. For Leach, that means slowing down Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart and Judkins. And then to ensure that its air strike program achieves its goals.
“Just play fast,” Leach said. “We have to play fast, and we do some of that ourselves. The key to them is their quarterback and how quickly he can switch without being affected. The more you can frustrate that, the better off you are.”
And the more you beat your rival, the happier your fans and team will be.
“You can see the hate on the field,” said Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo.
Kiffin has repeatedly dodged questions about the Auburn coaching opening. He fired back on Twitter at a TV reporter who reported Monday that Kiffin would step down on Friday but had not been offered the job. In a reply, he said, “This is news to me.”
“I’ve been here three years and have been fortunate to have three different contracts,” Kiffin said earlier that day. “I don’t know why a fourth contract suddenly makes people feel better.
“I really appreciate things here.”
Judkins and Zach Evans have a chance to miss two 1,000-yard rushers for Ole Miss for the first time in a season. Judkins leads the SEC with 1,385 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns in a season. Evans’ 899 rushing yards ranks fifth. Both exceeded 200 yards against Arkansas.
Rogers has attempted 527 passes compared to Dart’s 283, though Dart opened rotating with Luke Altmyer. Rogers has passed for 3,474 yards with 32 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Dart has rushed for 2,363 yards and 16 touchdowns while throwing eight interceptions.
Bulldogs cornerback Emmanuel Forbes again demonstrated the danger of a quarterback throwing his way. He had his third pick-six this season and a career FBS record sixth this past weekend. He leads FBS with six interceptions and ranks eighth with 14 passes defended.
Mingo would prefer not to even count the Bulldogs’ most recent Egg Bowl win. Mississippi State came away with a 21-20 win in 2019 after Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore was penalized for celebrating a touchdown by crawling and pretending to urinate like a dog. Ole Miss missed the extra point attempt after being pushed back 15 yards.
“I still count myself up 2-0 to Mississippi State,” Mingo said. “If we had gone into overtime my freshman year with Mississippi State, we would have won. So I’m 2-0 up against them and trying to finish 3-0.”
By JOHN ZENOR AP sportswriter
AP sportswriter Gary B. Graves contributed to this report.