Plenty at stake for Ole Miss, Mississippi State in Starkville on Saturday

Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram has never been to Starkville. He was hurt his freshman season and didn’t travel for the annual Egg Bowl game.

He’ll get his first taste Saturday.

The Rebels (8-3, 5-2 SEC) will hit the road to face off against in-state rival Mississippi State (8-3, 4-3) Saturday at 6:15 p.m. CT on ESPN2, the 112th meeting in the series they lead 62-43-6.

Ole Miss routed LSU, 38-17, over the weekend.

“We’re going to celebrate (LSU) and throw it in the trash and get ready for State,” Engram, who has 30 catches for 325 yards and two touchdowns on the season, said. “This is a huge rivalry. There’s so many emotions flying with all this new media and trash talk on Twitter and social media and stuff. And there’s a lot of tradition that goes into this rivalry.

“It’s been back and forth. Each home team has been winning. We look to end that pattern, that little streak. We’re going to have a great week of preparation for that game.”

The Rebels likely secured a Florida bowl (Citrus, Gator or Outback) with the win against LSU, but they’ll be potentially playing for much more come kickoff in Davis Wade Stadium. Should Auburn upset Alabama, an Ole Miss win would mean the Rebels' first trip to Atlanta, Ga., for the SEC championship game.

As if one of fiercest rivalries in college football needed more significance.

“It means everything,” Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly said. Kelly accounted for four touchdowns Saturday. He has 34 touchdowns responsible for on the season, a school record once held by Eli Manning. Kelly also holds school records in total offense and 300-yard passing games.

“I take every game game-by-game, but I understand in the back of the head that this is a rivalry game, and this means a lot to a lot of people. You’ve got to go out and win. That’s how you’re really going to be remembered. I’m anxious to get there. It’s going to be loud.”

Ole Miss will face a tough task, having claimed just one win in the last 17 years in Starkville, including a 17-10 loss to Mississippi State in 2013 when the Rebels were heavily favored. The last four games in the series have been won by the home team, and 10 of the last 11.

“It’s a big one,” junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. “For the state of Mississippi, it’s a big one overall. It’s bragging rights for the fans and the players from Mississippi. The seniors, we want to send them out with another good win. The away team hasn’t won in the last few years. We want to go there and get a win, get out of there and hope things fall our way for the bowl predictions.”

Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze isn’t buying into the struggle of the away team in recent years.

“I don’t know if I feel that way right now because I’ve only been in three of them,” he said. “The one we were down there before, I really felt like we should have won if we would have just played well. We missed two field goals, turned it over and then fumbled it going in for a chance to win it there. I don’t know that that had anything to do with being on the road. Maybe it does. Talk to me after next week and I might feel differently.”

Ole Miss is averaging 40.5 points per game, which ranks 12th nationally, while the Bulldogs are putting up 33.5 points per game. The Rebels rolled up 432 yards of offense against LSU, with Treadwell contributing 58 yards and a touchdown, his sixth in as many games. 

Treadwell said Starkville is always a tough environment to play in.

“Crowd environment plays into the game,” he said. “The home team is usually more juiced up. The away team is getting off a plane, getting off a bus and trying to wake up. You get to sleep in a little bit at the hotel, then get up and go play. It’s easy for the home team to come home. You’re more comfortable, you’re in sync with what’s going on around you. Going there, different environment with the cowbells, fans and all sorts of things giving you a hard time throughout the game. It takes you off focus. It’s distracting.

“We’ve just got to execute - make every catch, run hard, play hard, make sure we’re synching in and locking in on the little things. We can’t have penalties, period. We can’t beat ourselves. We’re good enough to beat them, but we can’t beat ourselves.”

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