Ranked Rebels, dismal Dogs headed in different directions
By By Will Bardwell / staff writer
Nov. 26, 2003
Eli Manning can empathize with Mississippi State quarterback Kevin Fant.
A year ago, it was Manning's Rebels who entered the Battle for the Golden Egg on a five-game losing streak. After a 52-6 thrashing at the hands of Arkansas on Saturday, the Bulldogs are 2-9 and have now lost five straight.
Ole Miss rebounded from their struggles last Thanksgiving, though, and handed the Bulldogs a 24-12 beating. Manning said the No. 17 Rebels, 8-3 on the season, will need to get off to a fast start to ensure Mississippi State does not meet similar success this year.
Playing hard has not been enough this year for the Bulldogs. The Southeastern Conference's worst defense, once the class of the league, has given up more than 50 points in each of Mississippi State's last two games losses to Tennessee and Arkansas. No Bulldogs opponent has scored less than 21 points this season.
Even so, Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe is not counting MSU out.
Success has been equally uncommon for the Bulldogs offense, which is ranked dead last in the conference. Still, Fant has led a respectable passing attack, throwing for 2,060 yards and 14 touchdowns but also tossing an SEC-worst 20 interceptions.
The Rebels secondary, which rebounded against LSU on Saturday after shaky outings against South Carolina and Auburn, will be focused on Fant's favorite target, Bulldogs wide receiver Justin Jenkins.
Ole Miss' offense has the potential to blow the game wide open, though. Despite a disappointing performance against LSU, Manning went over the 3,000-yard mark for the season the only SEC quarterback with that distinction. And while the Rebels' pass defense is ranked last in the conference, the Bulldogs have not fared much better, with their secondary ranked next-to-last.
The Bulldogs also have a potent stable of running backs in sophomores Nick Turner and Jerious Norwood, who have combined for more than 1,200 rushing yards.
MSU's greatest threat of all, though, may be intangible. Jackie Sherrill will coach the final game of his career on Thursday, and with a 75-74-2 record with the Bulldogs, he needs a victory to have a winning record in his 13-year stint in Starkville.
Sherrill, who is 7-5 lifetime against Ole Miss, has never lost back-to-back games to his rival.