An Oxford, Ala., product, the senior Ole Miss safety experienced first hand the split between Alabama and Auburn fans; the animosity and intensity shared between two Southeastern Conference heavyweights.
The Egg Bowl, to Elston, is far more intense.
“I think here there’s more hatred,” he said. “A lot of people want to fight over it and everything. Alabama and Auburn, you hate them, but it isn’t as bad as over here. It gets pretty intense over here for Mississippi State and Ole Miss.”
Elston said he tries not to get into the back-and-forth that comes with the annual Battle of the Golden Egg, which dates back to 1927. Sure, he’ll send out a ‘Fail State’ on Twitter here and there, but that’s about it.
The same can’t be said for some of his teammates, namely those from Mississippi. Ole Miss features 46 players from the Magnolia state on its roster, including C.J. Johnson, Justin Bell, Aaron Morris, Channing Ward, Breeland Speaks and Markell Pack.
“I’m an Ole Miss guy, so I’ve got to hate Mississippi State because everybody else hates them,” Elston said. “Mississippi guys, I know they hate it a lot. I try to look at it as trying to get another win. I’ll slide a joke in here or there, ‘Fail State or something like that just to mess with Mississippi State fans. But other than that, I try not to get into it.”
For the first time in series history, Ole Miss and Mississippi State have been ranked in back-to-back Egg Bowls. The Rebels enter the game ranked No. 19 in the country with an 8-3 (5-2 SEC) record. Mississippi State is No. 23 at 8-3 (4-3).
There’s always plenty of stake when Ole Miss and Mississippi State play, but Saturday could carry even more weight depending on some other outcomes. Should Auburn upset Alabama, for example, the Rebels would be playing for their first trip to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. Not to mention the Sugar Bowl is still in play for both teams. Should Florida lose its final two games, the winner of the Egg Bowl could be in the driver’s seat to finish the season in New Orleans.
Elston, however, is more concerned with task at hand. The Rebels are set to face off against one of the top players in the conference in Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has 23 passing touchdowns to only three interceptions on the year, and he’s also rushed for nine. His 287.2 passing yards per game and 330.6 total yards per game rank second among SEC players behind only Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly.
“He’s very consistent now,” Elston, who has four interceptions and is second in the SEC with 14 passes defended, said. “Last year he wasn’t consistent in his throwing, and his arm’s gotten way better. He can throw the hash to the opposite side of the field pretty good. It’s very accurate. He’s gotten way better. Year-by-year you’re going to always improve. He’s going through his progressions and everything. He’s a good reader. He’s a good quarterback, plain and simple.”
The Ole Miss secondary, which was torched in the loss to Arkansas two weeks ago, rebounded against LSU. Elston said the improvement was mostly a product of confidence, though the Rebels did make some changes, including shifting safety Mike Hilton to corner, where he started every game as a junior.
Elston recorded seven tackles and broke up one pass in the 38-17 win, his final home game as a Rebel.
“I think we just had to play our game,” he said. “Arkansas game, we weren’t playing our game and didn’t have confidence. LSU game, I think we gained that confidence back a little bit. We just played with excitement.
“With Mississippi State, we’ve just got to do our assignment and keep our eyes well-trained. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors, so you’ve got to keep your eyes trained. From watching film, they do a lot of play-action and stutters and all that. We’ve got to keep our eyes trained and we’ll be OK. You’ve always got to treat each play like it’s that play. You can’t relax on them because you can’t relax on these receivers. They’ve got some good receivers.”