OXFORD, Miss. - On Thanksgiving Night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, No. 18 Mississippi State feasted. In doing so, the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) returned the Golden Egg trophy back to Starkville with a 35-3 thrashing of in-state rival Ole Miss (5-7, 1-7) in the 91st Battle for the Golden Egg.
"I'm ecstatic-not for me, but for these kids, our program, our team, Starkville, our fans and alumni and our university," head coach Joe Moorhead said. "It was just a great win and was very gratifying for our kids to see them this happy. For our defense to hold a unit as explosive as [Ole Miss] to under 200 yards and not allow a touchdown, that's remarkable. The way we ran the ball speaks volumes of our offensive line as well." MSU thrived in the ground game, racking up 309 yards behind 100-yard games from both Nick Fitzgerald and Kylin Hill, who pounded out 117 and 108 yards, respectively. Through the air, State amassed 111 yards to total 420 yards of offense in the victory. The senior Fitzgerald accounted for 228 yards and three touchdowns.
Hill and Aeris Williams each had touchdown runs in the contest and Deddrick Thomas had a scoring reception. Defensively, the Maroon and White was as dominant as ever-especially against the Rebels' running game. The Bulldogs' stout defensive unit held Ole Miss to just 189 yards of total offense and a staggering 37 on the ground. State forced three turnovers and the Rebels went 0-for-10 on third downs. MSU wreaked havoc in the Rebels' backfield, totaling 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. Additionally, four QB hurries paved the way to a pair of interceptions-one each by Johnathan Abram and Maurice Smitherman.
Erroll Thompson led the Bulldogs with seven tackles, two for losses. Montez Sweat had six stops, including 1.5 sacks. Abram had four tackles, a tackle for loss, the interception and two pass breakups. Jeffery Simmons and Gerri Green also had sacks in the contest. MSU drew first blood with about 5 minutes left in the first quarter on a 6-yard run by Hill and never looked back. The Rebels' lone score came on a 32-yard field goal by Luke Logan with 6:46 remaining in the first half that made it 14-3 Bulldogs. From there, State scored 21 unanswered to close out the night and reclaim the Golden Egg trophy.
10 Notables From MSU's Win Over Ole Miss ...
1. Top Scoring D Dominates Egg Bowl
Entering Thursday's Battle for The Golden Egg, the Bulldogs' defense had allowed just 12 touchdowns all season-the least among all FBS teams. That trend continued, as State only allowed a field goal against Ole Miss, ending the regular season at the top spot in fewest touchdowns allowed.
2. Not One, But Two Over 100 Rushing
Nick Fitzgerald and Kylin Hill both eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the ground, with 117 and 108, respectively. The performances marked the fourth time in 2018 that two Bulldogs dashed for over 100 yards and the ninth time since the start of the 2016 campaign. In those four this season, Fitzgerald and Hill have teamed up three of those times. The performances marked Fitzgerald's sixth 100-yard rushing game and Hill's third of 2018.
3. Bulldogs Force Turnover For 15th Straight Game
MSU's defense once again displayed its knack for forcing turnovers, snagging a pair of interceptions and recovering a fumble, on Thursday night. By doing so, State has now forced at least one turnover in 15 straight games dating back to Nov. 18, 2017 at Arkansas. With the two interceptions on the night, MSU has also hauled in an interception in 11 of 12 games this season.
4. Another Game With 300-Plus On The Ground
The Bulldogs churned out 309 rushing yards Thursday night against the Rebels-the seventh game since MSU's last trip to Oxford, when it pounded out 457 yards in a 55-20 rout of the Rebels. With Thursday's performance, State has now rushed for 300 or more yards in four games in 2018. Thursday's production was an SEC-best 20th time the Bulldogs had eclipsed 250 rushing yards since the start of the 2016 season.
5. Party In The Backfield
Staying on the defensive side of the ball, MSU wreaked havoc in the Ole Miss backfield, totaling 11 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Bulldog defenders also notched 4 QB hurries in the contest to pressure Rebel quarterbacks and lead to a pair of interceptions. The 11 TFLs eclipsed the 2017 season total and puts MSU just two shy of matching the single-season school record of 98 in 2015.
Montez Sweat, the nation's most-feared pass-rusher, led the way with 1.5 sacks, while Erroll Thompson, Jeffery Simmons and Gerri Green each collected a game-high 2 tackles for loss. Thompson was also credited for a pair of hurries.
6. Third Down Efficiency-On Both Sides
Offensively, State had a decent day on third downs, going 6-of-13. Defensively, the Bulldogs were superb, not allowing a single third-down conversion, as Ole Miss went 0-for-10 on the night.
7. Perfect In The Red Zone
MSU was perfect once it advanced inside the Rebels' 20-yard mark, going a stellar 5-of-5 in red zone trips. While Ole Miss capitalized on its lone trip inside MSU's 20, it's only score came via field goal.
8. Fitzgerald Nearing Career Touchdown Century Mark
Senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was responsible for three touchdowns Thursday night (2 rushing, 1 passing), increasing his total touchdowns responsible for to 99-just two behind Florida's Chris Leak and Tennessee's Peyton Manning (101) for sixth all-time in the SEC record books.
Fitzgerald's rushing touchdown on Thursday tied him for fifth all-time in SEC lore in that category (44).
9. Dawgs' Secondary Holds Strong Against Explosive Pass Game
As impressive as the Bulldogs were against the run, State was just as impressive against the Ole Miss pass game that entered Thursday ranked second nationally in yards per game, holding the Rebels to just 152 yards through the air-over 200 yards below their season average of 364.1.
10. Ball Security Trend Continues For Bulldog Rushers
Despite a fumble by Nick Fitzgerald in the second quarter, the loose ball was recovered by the Bulldogs' Aeris Williams, continuing the ball security prowess that has become the norm for MSU ball carriers. Fitzgerald has now rushed over 500 times without losing a fumble. Of his 581 career carries, Fitzgerald has only lost a fumble three times.
Kylin Hill, on the other hand, has now rushed 183 times without losing a fumble, and has not lost a fumble in his Bulldog career.
"It was important to establish our physicality and our demeanor of the game. We've been performing well on offense and the pass game has taken off when they're supporting the run or getting us in one-on-one matchups. We were effective in the run game and hit some timely passes as well."- Head Coach Joe Moorhead, on the importance of establishing the run early.