McCready: Kiffin puts his stamp on his first Egg Bowl
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OXFORD -- It wasn't particularly pretty.
There were chances to make it a beautiful blowout win.
Still, a year after a loss in the Egg Bowl led to mass change, Ole Miss took the Golden Egg back home and held off Mississippi State, 31-24.
Ole Miss had shots at a knockout, especially in the first half, but the Bulldogs either had a stone jaw or just enough escapability. When Mississippi State stopped the Rebels and then scored a touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 at halftime, anyone and everyone familiar with this rivalry knew what was coming in the second half -- a nail-biter.
Ole Miss got a field goal early in the fourth quarter to extend its lead to 24-14. Then Mississippi State answered with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to pull within 24-21 with 7:51 remaining.
Then Ole Miss, at least in my opinion, changed the recent tone of the program. The Rebels drove 77 yards on nine plays in 2:58, capping a scoring drive with an 8-yard touchdown run by Jerrion Ealy to push the lead back to 10 points.
Mississippi State rallied for a field goal and got one final shot at the end zone before Will Rogers' pass fell to the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium turf as the final second ticked off the clock.
The Rebels are now 4-4. They get another week off before finishing, presumably, with back-to-back trips to Texas A&M and LSU next month. The next two weeks should be relaxed. The Rebels will be underdogs with a chance to shake things up nationally at Texas A&M and then might catch a limping, defeated LSU club in Baton Rouge.
A bowl game is a near certainty at this point. Everyone wants a piece of the Rebels right now, what with Lane Kiffin at the helm. Ole Miss is relevant for the first time in four-plus years. Mississippi State is now 2-6 with possible losses to Auburn and Missouri looming.
Kiffin and the Rebels have a real chance to gain some recruiting momentum in the next few weeks, both inside and outside Mississippi's borders. One game wouldn't have taken that away, necessarily, but Ole Miss needed a win Saturday -- for the next few weeks, the next few months and, maybe, the next few years.
Again, it could've been prettier, and an opportunity to embarrass the Bulldogs went by the wayside, but Ole Miss did what it had to do Saturday.
A year after the Rebels walked away from the Egg Bowl with a program in complete chaos, Ole Miss is stable and moving forward.
Kiffin has Ole Miss poised to take big steps forward -- soon.
Saturday's win was a step in that direction. It wasn't monumental. It didn't accelerate a rebuild, but it was a necessary step.
If things go the way Kiffin wants, this will be his worst Ole Miss team. If things go the way he wants, beating Mississippi State won't be a huge deal moving forward.
To get there, Ole Miss had to win Saturday.
It did. Style points be damned, that's all that matters.