STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — This year's Egg Bowl promises to be brisk by Magnolia State standards, with temperatures expected to hover in the 30s on Thursday night.
That could be good news for Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference), which hosts rival Mississippi (7-4, 3-4) in the 110th meeting between the programs.
Mississippi State played well in the cold last weekend against Arkansas, winning 24-17 in overtime. The Bulldogs must win on Thursday to earn bowl eligibility for a fourth straight season.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the Rebels didn't handle the cold weather very well in last weekend's 24-10 loss to then-No. 8 Missouri. The Rebels had some dropped passes in the red zone, causing their normally prolific offense to stagnate.
"I don't talk about those things a lot, but I did talk to our team about it today," Freeze said. "I didn't think we handled it real well, particularly when we got behind and your mind is not your friend. It'll play some games with you, some tricks on you and lie to you. Part of our program — our core values — is mental toughness and we'll have to have that Thursday night because there's going to be some adverse times when you're playing a good team."
Mississippi State knows about adversity — especially at the quarterback position.
The Bulldogs could be down to their third-string quarterback Damian Williams on Thursday. Coach Dan Mullen said starter Dak Prescott is out with a nerve injury in his non-throwing arm that's caused him to miss the past two games.
Backup Tyler Russell could still play but has missed chunks of the past two games with an injury to his throwing shoulder.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Williams has thrown just 27 passes this season, but ran for a go-ahead 25-yard touchdown against Arkansas last weekend.
"You can see the talent there," Mississippi State coach Les Koenning said. "But we've got to be careful as coaches. He's a freshman. We've got to go out there and put him in a position where he can be successful."
Though Mississippi State is hurting at quarterback, one important factor is pointing toward the Bulldogs: The home team has won 12 of the past 14 Egg Bowls, including eight of the past nine.
Here are five things to watch when Mississippi State hosts Mississippi in Thursday night's Egg Bowl :
BRING A COAT: It's going to be a cold Egg Bowl, especially by Magnolia State standards. Temperatures are expected to hover in the 30s for Thursday's game, which could favor Mississippi State. Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the Rebels didn't handle the cold very well in last week's loss to then-No. 8 Missouri. The Rebels have several dropped passes in the red zone, including a sure touchdown that bounced off the hands of Donte Moncrief.
QB SHUFFLE: Mississippi State's had a constant rotating cast at quarterback this season and now the Bulldogs might be down to their third option. Coach Dan Mullen said starter Dak Prescott will miss Thursday night's game because of a nerve injury in his non-throwing arm. Backup Tyler Russell is also dealing with an injury to his throwing shoulder, which could leave the offense to freshman Damian Williams. Williams ran for the go-ahead 25-yard touchdown against Arkansas in last weekend's 24-17.
PLENTY TO PLAY FOR: Ole Miss has already qualified for a bowl, but a win would put them higher in the SEC's pecking order for a more prestigious postseason destination. The Rebels are also looking for their eighth win of the season, which would surpass their 7-6 season in 2012. Mississippi State must win the Egg Bowl to earn bowl eligibility for a fourth straight season. The Bulldogs are trying to win four out of the last five over the Rebels.
OLE MISS WANTS OFFENSE: Ole Miss would likely prefer a high-scoring game on Thursday. Quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown for 2,908 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions this season in his second full year as the starter. Donte Moncrief leads the Rebels with 801 receiving yards while Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell are tied with five touchdown catches.
MISSISSIPPI STATE DEFENSE: Mississippi State's best chance at winning the Egg Bowl appears to be in a low-scoring game. The Bulldogs have been very good on defense the past two weeks, holding No. 1 Alabama to a season-low 20 points two weeks ago before last week's 24-17 victory over Arkansas.