Mississippi is Dan Mullen’s State


Nov 28, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs players hold up the egg bowl trophy after winning the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State Bulldogs defeat the Mississippi Rebels with a score of 17-10 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi is not Ole Miss’s State or Mississippi State’s State.

Mississippi belongs to Dan Mullen.

Ever since his arrival as the head coach of Mississippi State, Mullen has been endearing himself to State fans and enraging Ole Miss fans. There is no question that his relationship with Bulldog fans has been rocky at best this year (just go back and read some of our columns), but he gets the Egg Bowl. He understands what it means to this state and to athletics department that he works for.

Mullen has dominated the Rebels. After the 2013 version of the Egg Bowl, there is no question about that. He is now 4-1 against the Rebels. Ole Miss fans looked forward to getting closer to making his record against them .500. They thought with the way their team played under their new coach last year, that their program had discovered the antidote to their Mullen poison.

Though no Ole Miss fan will admit it, he is in the heads of every Ole Miss fan, player, and coach. In Mullen’s first Egg Bowl in 2009, State entered the game at 4-7 and significant underdogs to Houston Nutt’s Rebels that were 8-3 and looking for a trip to the Capital One Bowl. Mullen had spent the entire year calling Ole Miss “The School Up North” and talking as arrogantly as any coach at Mississippi State had about the Rebels. Ole Miss fans looked forward to shutting him up in what they assumed would be an easy victory for their Rebels. What ensued was a 41-27 thrashing that has made Dan Mullen public enemy #1 in the eyes of Ole Miss fans.

The 2010 and 2011 season saw more of the same. Mississippi State had entrenched themselves as the premiere program in the state, and Mullen continued to trumpet his success over Ole Miss much to the delight of Bulldog fans. Ole Miss fans built up as much anger as they could towards the brash coach of Mississippi State, and it would boil over in the 2012 Egg Bowl.

Ole Miss had a new coach in Hugh Freeze, and was riding the wave of momentum of a season that was going far better than any fan or expert could have guessed. They needed a win in the Egg Bowl to achieve bowl eligibility, and more importantly for them, to put Mullen in his place. And they did.

Ole Miss and State played a mistake filled first half in 2012 in which neither team was able to seize control. But in the second half, Ole Miss came in clicking on all cylinders and pulled away from the Bulldogs in a landslide victory. The fans rushed the field and the Ole Miss video board played a video they had made mocking Mullen after the 2010 Egg Bowl in which he proclaimed in the locker room that State would never lose to that team again.

Their mission was achieved. Mullen was as quiet as ever this year about Ole Miss. But his silence was in no way an indication that he was humbled in his attitude about the loss to “The School Up North”. He said in one of his press conferences this week leading up to the game that he was as mad now about last year’s loss as he was on the Sunday that followed. If you didn’t believe that at first, you had to believe him when the game started.

Mississippi State played as inspired on the defensive side of the ball as they have all year during the 2013 Egg Bowl. The defense was flying towards the ball like we have not seen since 2010. The defensive linemen, led by a likely future first round pick in the NFL draft in Chris Jones, were in the face of the quarterback and pressuring Bo Wallace all night long. Wallace entered the game having thrown only six interceptions all season. He threw three last night, and he should have thrown two more if the replay booth had overturned two clear interceptions that were called incorrectly on the field. To top off Wallace’s terrible night, as he was about to score the ball was stripped and recovered in the end zone by Jamerson Love to seal the Mississippi State win. The secondary was as active as ever, and completely contained the vaunted receiving corps of Ole Miss. After being torched in last year’s Egg Bowl, and losing two cornerbacks to the second round of the NFL draft. Many assumed that their receivers would have a field day in this year’s game. But led by a monster game from Taveze Calhoun, the secondary helped hold Ole Miss to their second lowest offensive output of the season.

The offense played just as inspired, though not nearly as productive. Damian Williams was asked to do everything he could to keep the Bulldogs in the game by his coach. The third string quarterback played virtually mistake free football for three quarters. He was never expected to have any significant playing time, but due to the numerous injuries that Dak Prescott and Tyler Russell sustained throughout the season, Williams saw significant playing time in the three biggest games of the year for State.  He played as well as any Bulldog fan could have asked for until the fourth quarter when he mad an ill advised throw that was intercepted. It was apparent at that time that Mississippi State was going to need their offensive leader to win the game.

Dan Mullen made his second biggest decision of the night at that time and put in Dak Prescott. Prescott’s first drive stalled out and led to a punt, but his second drive led to a game tying field goal by Evan Sobiesk. Mississippi State’s defense held Ole Miss on the ensuing drive to a three and out and Prescott drove the team into the red zone completing a 4th and 10 pass that was perfectly thrown to set up a field goal try. Sobiesk would miss this one and led to overtime.

Prescott successfully led the Bulldogs down to the four yard line on the opening drive of OT. Facing fourth and 2 from the four, Mullen flashed his brash arrogance against the Rebels and displayed his supreme confidence in his sophomore quarterback. When almost all expected him to try the field goal, Mullen put the game and the season in the hands of Prescott. On a quarterback draw, Prescott plunged ahead for not just a first down, but also the touchdown that proved to be a game winner.

As the enthusiasm has died down from the thrilling victory, there are still things that Dan Mullen will have to prove as the head coach of this football program in the 2014 season. But the one thing that he understands is just how important it is to beat your rival. Many Ole Miss fans will claim that Mississippi State fans only care about beating Ole Miss, but this simply isn’t true. What is true is the fact that it matters to fans of the Bulldogs. Mississippi State fans don’t have the superior attitude to believe that this game isn’t significant or that we have another school that is our “true rival”. Mullen has always comprehended the value of beating a rival and what it can do to the confidence of a program and fanbase. He believes that there is no reason that Mississippi State shouldn’t be able to compete and play at the same level or above as “The School Up North” every single year. And because of that, he has driven Ole Miss fans crazy with anger and Mississippi State fans insane with joy on four occasions the last five years during the final regular season game of the season. As long as he is in the heads of the Ole Miss program and fans, this will continue to be Mullen’s state.