Nov. 19 – STARKVILLE – Mississippi State did what should be done against an FCS opponent on Saturday.
The Bulldogs protected Will Rogers.
They ran, they caught, they scored touchdowns.
After a 56-7 win over East Tennessee State in front of a reduced crowd at Davis Wade Stadium, a game that left State 35-0 at halftime, Mike Leach and the Bulldogs are hoping to ignite the passion in their fanbase against rival Ole Miss to reignite.
It’s Egg Bowl week.
Leach, like many coaches, says he prefers to treat all games as equal, play them in sequence, and then look back to reflect on successes, or lack thereof. Coaches can get trapped in the team bubble saying they don’t listen to outside voices.
In Mississippi, you have to consider what the voices are saying about this game.
Too many losses will stir up the crowds, and those voices will eventually reach the decision-makers’ offices. They’re not going to make hiring-firing decisions based solely on Egg Bowl results, but when those results manifest themselves through contributions to the program, well, that’s another story.
Egg bowl losses are a little easier to take when you’re rolling through most of your other opponents and surpassing the eight-win mark, the unspoken threshold of success in Mississippi for many years. But Leach’s Bulldogs don’t do that.
In fact, Egg Bowl week comes with the Bulldogs having just one offensive touchdown in three of their last four SEC games.
The breakaway was Auburn, a 39-33 win in overtime for Mississippi State, but the offense stuttered in the second, third and early fourth quarters of that game.
Mike Leach needs an Egg Bowl win.
He needs it to get an eighth win in the regular season, one more than last year.
He needs it to distance himself from the offense’s obvious struggles against some of the better SEC defenses in Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.
More than anything, he needs it to win back a segment of the Mississippi State fanbase who are worried about his ability to win in rivalry games.
“We’re just looking forward to playing the game. The most important thing is to focus on being the best you can be, being the best team you can be and sticking with it,” said Leach. “If you distract yourself with a few other things, you won’t help your approach.”
Leach was 7-3 against Texas A&M while practicing at Texas Tech, a stretch cherished by Tech fans.
He was less successful against Texas but delivered a memorable win in 2008.
Texas and A&M may consider themselves the premier rivalry in Texas, but tech fans place a high value on winning these games.
Leach is in a bad rivalry game right now.
At Washington State, Leach’s Cougars defeated rival Washington in the Apple Cup in its debut season in 2012, then lost the next seven.
He’s currently 0-for-Lane Kiffin with his third matchup with the Rebels and their coach next Thursday. The coming days will follow a familiar pattern.
“You want to lock yourself in, try to improve, try to be better and be the best you can be,” Leach said.
PARRISH ALFORD is the collegiate sports editor and columnist for the Daily Journal. Contact him at [email protected]