THROWBACK THURSDAY: Egg Bowl 2003

OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM Chris Collins
OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM
Chris Collins
OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM

Nov. 28, 2013

Today's THROWBACK THURSDAY rewinds to the last Egg Bowl played on Thanksgiving Day, when Ole Miss traveled to Starkville and handed Mississippi State a crushing 31-0 loss on the Bulldogs' home field.

Goose Egg fairly shouts of Reb' rule, Dogs' despair

By Rick Cleveland, The Clarion-Ledger

November 28, 2003

STARKVILLE, Miss. -Today, the Ole Miss Rebels turn their attention – and television sets – to Arkansas-LSU.

Hoghats anyone?

The Rebels have earned a share of the Southeastern Conference Western Division title, their first of any sort in 40 years. Now, they fervently hope the Razorbacks will beat LSU and send Ole Miss to the SEC Championship game.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State’s Bulldogs today turn their attention to, well, perhaps to Sylvester Croom, the leading candidate to succeed Jackie Sherrill.

We shall see. Late Thursday night, it sure seemed as if the job is Croom’s to accept or turn down.

What we surely saw last night, through persistent rain showers in the 100th Egg Bowl, is that Croom, or whomever, will have much work to do.

What we also saw was an Ole Miss team that has established clear superiority over its archrival over the past two seasons. The Rebels trounced the Bulldogs 31-0 on their home field. It was every bit as one-sided as it sounds – the first time Ole Miss has blanked State since 1971.

Watching the Rebels’ dominating Thursday night, it seemed almost inconceivable that two years ago we sat in the same stadium and watched Kevin Fant lead the Bulldogs to a 36-28 victory over Eli Manning and the Rebels.

That defeat combined to knock Ole Miss out of a bowl game and earn Sherrill a contract extension.

Just two years ago …

Yes, Ole Miss has improved that much.

Yes, State has gone backwards that far.

It showed afterward, too. Hard to say what was thicker: the cigar smoke inside the Ole Miss locker room or the gloom inside the State locker room.

Here’s the play that best typified State’s season: Ole Miss was leading 31-0 with nine minutes remaining. State was trying desperately to avoid the shutout. The Bulldogs faced fourth down at the Ole Miss 9-yard line. State called for a pass play from Fant to fellow senior, Justin Jenkins.

Jenkins broke inside; Fant threw outside.

And Ole Miss defenders, who badly wanted a shutout, celebrated.

So it was, the goose egg remained on State’s side of the scoreboard, one final exclamation point on a season of abject misery.

The Bulldogs were outscored 267 to 57 over their last six games, all defeats. That’s an average of five touchdowns per game if you're keeping score.

Now then, compare that to Ole Miss, which has won seven of its last eight and beaten several traditional powerhouses in the process.

“We’re 7-1 in the SEC,” Cutcliffe said, smiling broadly. “That’s exciting, because it’s not easy to be 7 and 1 in this league.”

Manning made his last regular season game one to remember. Despite the terrible conditions, Manning completed 19 of 27 for 260 yards and three touchdowns. Had it not been raining so hard, had it not been so one-sided, he might have thrown for 500.

Put it this way: In the first half, when it was still a game, Manning completed 16 of 21 passes for 211 yards. Three of five incompletions were dropped. One was a throw-away.

The other one?

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Afterward, Manning was reminded of that night two years ago when Ole Miss lost the Egg Bowl and a chance to play in a post-season bowl.

“That game was probably the worst feeling I’ve ever had as a player,” Manning said.

And how did it feel to win on the same field two years later, with at least a share of the division title on the line.

His smile said it all.

“It’s been a great season … we’ve earned everything we’ve gotten,” Manning said. “It’s been the best year for Ole Miss in a long, long time. It’s just been a career year.”

Yes, and it is a career year that still could have an even more special ending. Late Thursday night, the Rebels practiced calling the Hogs in the smoke-filled locker room.

Cutcliffe said he planned to watch the Arkansas game at home with his family. Ole Miss players are on their own and most said they planned to watch the game at their homes.

Said Chris Collins, who caught eight of Manning’s throws for 113 yards and a touchdown, “I am now the biggest Hog fan ever.”

In Mississippi, today, he will have much company.

Meanwhile, State fans will wait to hear who gets the job of turning around the Bulldogs’ fortunes.

It will be a Yeoman’s task.

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