After The Smoke Cleared

Play-by-play reveals the essence of the 31-17 Egg Bowl victory Ole Miss posted over Mississippi State Saturday night. It was about big plays and an aggressive style on both sides of the ball.

Even though the Ole Miss Sports Information Department provides a postgame play-by-play account of every game, it has been this writer's habit for over three decades to scribble down my own play-by-play and circle big, game-changing or momentum type plays as I go.

That way, it is easy to go back after the game and see the ebb and flow and the "essence" of a particular contest.

The 2014 Egg Bowl, won by the Rebels 31-17, was no different, but then again it was totally different from most of the worksheets I compile.

In most games, I circle 10-15 plays and that gives me a good idea of plays to make note of. In this year's Egg Bowl, I circled nearly 40, and wrote little notes, and while some of them were good plays by the Bulldogs, most of them were the Rebels getting the better of the visitors.

Just for fun, let's review most of those chronologically with a brief thought at the time.

1) On the Rebs' first offensive series, Ole Miss went for it on fourth down and inches from their own 37. Thought: The Rebel coaches meant business and were going to fire all their bullets.

2) On 3rd-and-3, the Bulldogs ran Dak Prescott on their first possession and DE C.J. Johnson stopped him short of the first down. Thought: It was easy to see from their first possession, every rushing yard the Bulldogs gained was going to be earned. The tone for the night was set and mostly by the Rebs' front four.

3) On the Rebs' second possession, which ended with a MSU interception in the end zone, the Rebels were effectively able to run the ball, mix in the pass and ultimately get to the MSU 18. Thought: State's defense was in trouble if the Rebs were going to two-dimensional on offense.

4) On MSU's next possession, DE Marquis Haynes sacked Prescott on a 3rd-and-11 play at the MSU 12. Thought: Reb DC Dave Wommack was going to do what no other defense had been able to do against the Bulldogs all year - create pressure on Dak and rattle him. Ole Miss sacked him three times and contained him from making any big plays with his feet all night.

5) After that sack, freshman Punt Returner Markell Pack had a 20-yard return of a booming kick into MSU territory. Thought: This was the most comfortable I'd seen Pack fielding punts all year, a minor concern entering the game.

6)On the first play after Pack's return, hobbled QB Bo Wallace found TE Evan Engram streaking across the middle for 46 yards to the MSU one and the next play Bo scored the first TD of the game. Thought: If Engram gets involved heavily in the offense, it could be a long night for the Bulldogs. (He caught five passes for 176 yards on the night.)

7) Touchback on the ensuing kickoff by PK Nathan Noble. Thought: No return opportunities means no big play threats in the kicking game for MSU. Noble went deep all but one time on six kickoffs.

8) Husky Tony Conner made a tackle behind the line on Dak to kill a MSU drive that ended with a field goal early in the second quarter. Thought: Conner was as active as he's ever been, and that's saying a lot.

9) WR Vincent Sanders caught a long ball into State territory, but tore his ACL on the ensuing tackle out of bounds. Thought: How would the Rebs respond without yet another top receiver out of the lineup?

10) MSU completed a 20-yard pass to D'Runnya Wilson into Reb territory. Thought: That big boy is a tough matchup for any corner at 6-5 and very strong. He caught nine balls for 117 yards and a TD on the night. No taking away his prowess or value to their cause.

11) On the same drive, MSU went for it on 4th-and3, but Dak was stuffed by senior Reb LB Keith Lewis, playing in place of Serderius Bryant, who was suspended the first half of the game. Thought: Lewis, and this Rebel defense, had no intention of letting the Dogs get in a rhythm offensively. (Keith ended up the leading tackler with eight on the night.)

12) Leading 7-3 at half, it was anyone's game. Thought: For what it's worth, the Rebels, overall, were a faster team than MSU. The speed differential was apparent at most every position. Also, the UM offensive line had neutralized the MSU defensive front and seemed to be gaining more and more confidence.

13) On MSU's second possession of the 2nd half, the Bulldogs got something going offensively with some different looks and went on to score a TD and take a 10-7 lead. Thought: MSU TB Ashton Shumpert gave them a spark in the run game with three nice runs on the edges. Gotta get that shored up.

14) The Rebels immediately get an 83-yard catch and run from Engram to the Bulldog 2 and Jeremy Liggins punched it in for a score. Thought: Fantastic, aggressive first down call by the Rebel coaches just when the MSU contingent felt the momentum shifting their way. The answer score might have been the play of the game.

15) The Bulldogs came right back with a long pass completion but missed a mid-range field goal. Thought: At that point, every score was big. Every missed opportunity was big as well.

16) Completions to Engram and Quincy Adeboyejo got the ball to the State 22 where freshman PK Gary Wunderlich was called on for a 39-yard field goal. It was absolutely dead center. Thought: If the game came down to another Wunderlich kick, his jitters were gone.

17) Only a score down, MSU pinned the Rebs down with a punt at the Ole Miss 9. That's when a Rebel bomb went off - a 91-yard, reversed field TD run by Walton, who got a downfield shield block from Core. 24-10 Rebs. Thought: A two-score lead looked real good as the third quarter wore down, but there is still a lot of football to play and there can be no slacking off or satisfaction.

18) Dak hits Wilson, covered perfectly by freshman CB Kendarius Webster, for a 32-yard TD. Thought: Give the big receiver credit. Great catch. The Rebs need another score for comfort, even as good as the defense is playing.

19) On the Bulldogs' next possession, which could potentially tie the game early in the fourth stanza, C.J. Johnson sacks Dak for an 11-yard loss to kill stall a drive. Thought: Run, clock, run. Get another score.

20) A new wrinkle - out of the Wildcat with Walton at QB, a handoff to Jordan Wilkins wide left gets a 41-yard gain to the MSU 31. On the next play, Wallace pitches to Wilkins who sells the sweep right perfectly and tosses a TD pass to Core. 31-17, 9:14 to go. Should be over, but in this game, you never know. . .

21) MSU launches one more charge and gets to the Reb 5 but one short Dak run and three straight incompletions seals the deal. Thought: Thank you, football gods.

Added Notes: This was a total team effort from the coaches down to the ball boys and that is what it took, just like it does in every SEC game. . . . So happy for the Rebel seniors, particularly Wallace, who has had to live with a dreadful ending from last year for 364 days. . . .Kudos to the OL for taking care of and protecting their wounded leader, who told me less than an hour before kickoff that his plant foot was "bad." Tough kid who needed protecting. . . The Rebel defense ends the year as the number one scoring defense in the country. There were a couple of hiccups along he way, but you can't argue with the overall numbers. Marvelous.


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