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November 26, 2013

Notes: Egg Bowl gave momentum to Rebels

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze meets with the media Monday at the Manning Center.

OXFORD, Miss. -- Last November, Hugh Freeze led his first Ole Miss team to a 41-24 win over then-No. 24 Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

The win earned Ole Miss a spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl, where the Rebels defeated Pittsburgh to finish the season with a 7-6 mark.

That victory, Freeze said Monday, helped the Rebels gain a "considerable amount" of momentum, both on the recruiting trail and as a program in general.

Then top-five prospects Robert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell were in Oxford for the Egg Bowl victory Birmingham, Ala., for the win over Pitt. Freeze didn't name specific recruits Monday but he said those games "may have been a determining factor" in the decisions of several top targets.

"Then just the overall confidence from our fans and our people who are around, we created some momentum from that game last year," Freeze said.

Ole Miss (7-4 overall, 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference) will look to repeat that momentum-building with a win at Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5) Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Davis-Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs can earn a BBVA Compass Bowl bid with a win Thursday. Ole Miss can likely wrap up a Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl berth with a win.

If Ole Miss loses, the Rebels could fall to the Liberty Bowl. It's likely that if Georgia defeats Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday, the Bulldogs will head to the Gator Bowl. If Georgia, playing without injured quarterback Aaron Murray, loses after Ole Miss wins, the Rebels would be the favorite to land a spot in Jacksonville.

All of that, Freeze said, takes a bit of a back seat to the rivalry.

"The Egg Bowl intensity is always going to be about as high as you get in a given game," Freeze said. "But certainly, with them having to win to go to a bowl like we did last year, if it's possible to ratchet it up a little more for your kids, particularly your seniors, that's something that would do it. I don't think you have to have that to make it more emotional, but if there's anything that would do it to make it more, that would do it."

REBELS PREPARING FOR, WELL, WHO?: Freeze admitted Monday he's not sure which quarterback Ole Miss will face Thursday. Dak Prescott is likely out for the Egg Bowl, leaving Tyler Russell and freshman Damian Williams to handle quarterbacking duties in Starkville.

""I really don't know exactly what is going on," Freeze said. "I know that they've been resting Dak the last few weeks and the other two have played in the last few games. I saw where Tyler left the game last week at the end. I have no idea what the significance of that is. We've got to prepare for all three, I think. Fortunately, two of the three are very similar and do the same things."

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said Monday Prescott is out for the Ole Miss game. He said Russell is the same as last week, when he was questionable all week before starting at Arkansas. Williams has played sparingly, though he did score on a 25-yard run on the first play of overtime to give the Bulldogs a 24-17 win in Little Rock.

RESPECT FOR BULLDOGS' D: Mississippi State's defense is ninth in the SEC in scoring defense (25.6 points per game), sixth in total defense (370.7 yards per game), ninth in rushing defense (154.2 yards per game) and seventh in pass defense (244.3 yards per game). The Bulldogs front seven, however, has Freeze's total respect and attention.

"Their length and size of their front, they're one of the longer defenses you'll face," Freeze said. "Their linebackers are 6-4, 6-5, 6-3. Their front's huge. It's very difficult to win one-on-ones. You have to create some double-teams and then their backers are pretty good at running around and making plays. Then in their passing game, they do a great job of spot-dropping and then they're so long that those windows to throw in don't stay open very long. I think they're an excellent defense."

WALLACE RECOVERING: Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who played in Saturday's loss to Missouri with a fever and flu-like symptoms, was "a little better yesterday, not well but a little better," Freeze said.

Flu has been making its way through Oxford in the past couple of weeks, but Freeze said Wallace was the only Rebel with symptoms last weekend.

"We didn't let travel back with the team," Freeze said. "We put him in a van and took him straight back to the training room to keep him isolated. We didn't make him come around our guys, either, on Saturday at the hotel."

MISSING EVAN: Freeze said life without tight end Evan Engram, out for the year since suffering a foot injury against LSU on Oct. 19, "has changed us. We're a bit more predictable. People don't have a lot of fear of some of our tight ends right now hurting them in the passing game, which changes the box and the way that they can commit to stopping the run. It has changed us and we definitely miss him."

Engram caught 20 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns before his injury.

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