When Dan Mullen first arrived at Mississippi State in Dec. 2008, he began to rekindle the Egg Bowl rivalry by taking verbal jabs at Ole Miss by refusing to refer to the school by name.
Mullen’s tactic worked as the maroon and white faithful embraced their new head coach and Rebel fans began to loathe his existence.
Mullen went on to win his first three Egg Bowls but that streak came to an end last year. Ole Miss outscored the Bulldogs 24-7 in the second half for a 41-24 victory.
Has the loss silenced the sometimes boisterous Mullen?
“I’ve probably been here long enough that people tend to block it out,” Mullen said. “I haven’t changed my approach from the first day I got here. When I first got here people thought ‘wow, they put a lot on it’ and now everybody knows we do. Everybody’s skin has just thickened up I guess at this point.”
MSU renews its rivalry with the Rebels on Thanksgiving night at 6:30 on ESPN. There will be plenty of hostility throughout the Magnolia State in the days leading up to the game and for a calender year following.
“That’s how it should be in a rivalry game, that’s what makes it a lot of fun,” Mullen said.
Thursday will also be the final game for 13 seniors on the Bulldogs roster. Five of those seniors – Gabe Jackson, LaDarius Perkins, Tyler Russell, Deontae Skinner and Nickoe Whitley – were part of Mullen’s initial signing class in 2009.
“That whole recruiting class has put a lot in,” Mullen said. “Pernell McPhee and Chris White were both in that class and they left (in 2011) along with Fletcher (Cox). Chad (Bumphis), (Johnthan) Banks and all those guys left last year. This is kind of that last crew coming through. Those are the guys that first believed in us when we first got here and believed in what we were going to try to do and build.
“It’s great to see that a lot of that has happened for them. I’m proud of what they’ve done and proud of what they believed coming in here and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”
Punter Baker Swedenburg is the lone member of Sylvester Croom’s tenure that remains active on the roster. Swedenburg greyshirted in 2008.
State was able to keep its bowl hopes alive with a 24-17 overtime win at Arkansas on Saturday. But it could be a costly win as both Russell and Perkins went down with injuries and did not return.
Perkins left the game just before halftime after suffering an injury to his ribs after being hit while leaping across the goal line on a 30-yard touchdown catch. Russell re-aggravated a shoulder injury on the final drive of the fourth quarter.
Mullen stated on his 1 p.m. Sunday teleconference that he would not have an update on either player until later in the day when they arrived for practice.
Sophomore Josh Robinson filled in for Perkins quite nicely in the second half for the Bulldogs on Saturday. Robinson did not play in the first half but rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries giving Mississippi State’s running backs their first 100-yard rusher of the year.
“Even though he was sick and didn’t get a lot of reps early on at practice, as the game played out he had an opportunity and took advantage of it,” Mullen said. “He did a good job of taking advantage of that opportunity and making things happen on the field.”
Sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott has the Bulldogs other four 100-plus yard performances on the ground.
For the year, MSU is averaging 193.7 yards rushing per game and are picking up 4.9 yards a carry. Mullen attributes much of the Bulldogs success on the ground to an experienced offensive line.
“We have some veteran players on our offensive line,” Mullen said. “They are looking to try to make a way. To be successful, you’ve got to run the ball. In games that we’ve been successful in all year we’ve been able to run it. That goes for anybody, if you can run the football you’re going to be successful. We’re going to need our guys to play at a real high level and run the football on Thursday night.”
Mullen mentioned that the team would be having a Thanksgiving meal together on Tuesday night.