OXFORD, Mississippi – The State of Mississippi operates the Sip.
Will Lane Kiffin now run away from the sip? He says no.
If Kiffin had planned to bow at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Thursday night, the Bulldogs ruined the party like an unwelcome wedding guest gobbling up all the whiskey at the open bar.
That eggshell was ugly. Many are.
Rain fell in the second half. Offensive often seemed like a foreign word for both teams.
Defense of the state of Mississippi became a star. The Bulldogs delivered a barrage of red-zone stops.
Bulldogs senior Randy Charlton needed one last stop, deflecting a scoop pass on a two-point play that took Ole Miss to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
For the first time in Mike Leach’s tenure, the Golden Egg heads to Starkville after a 24-22 comeback win.
Where is Kiffin heading? Nowhere if we take him at his word.
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The Ole Miss coach was widely regarded as the frontrunner for Auburn’s coaching opening and questions about his future surfaced over that Egg Bowl, but he said after the game he plans to remain at Ole Miss.
I asked Kiffin head-on: If Auburn offers him his coaching job, does he expect to be Ole Miss’s coach next season?
“I do,” he said unequivocally.
By Egg Bowl standards, this was a no-hijinks game. That contrasted with what can only be described as a crazy week for Ole Miss No. 20 (8-4, 4-4 SEC). It jumped on the rails after WCBI-TV reported Monday that Kiffin was planning to take the Auburn job after the Egg Bowl. Kiffin responded with a series of tweets mocking the journalist who was covering the story.
And yet, Kiffin never said the words Ole Miss fans needed to hear — that he signed a contract extension to remain the Rebels coach. In all of his tweets, he has also never denied his interest in Auburn.
Kiffin offered his strongest public pledge of his commitment to Ole Miss after the Egg Bowl. He called the TV report “misreporting” and said he told his players this week.
Twice after the game, he said he plans to coach Ole Miss next season.
Kiffin is far from predictable, and more than a decade ago he spurned Tennessee. So there remains some suspense until Auburn announces a hiring.
If Kiffin leaves, his last contribution to Ole Miss will have been a flop.
Kiffin is gifted with a bright mind for attacking but you wouldn’t have known this Thursday, especially in the second half.
That night belonged to the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4) – and in particular to the Zach Arnett defense. MSU stopped Ole Miss’ vaunted attack.
Six Ole Miss drives penetrated the 35-yard line. Only two ended in touchdowns.
Kiffin often plays the role of the riverboat player, but he took a more conservative approach for much of this game. That mostly worked until he settled for fourth and 1st in the third quarter, with Ole Miss holding on to a 16-14 lead. The Rebels ran a play-action pass, but no receivers ran routes.
“We had a communication error,” said Ole Miss quarterback Jaxson Dart.
Convert the fourth down and hit a touchdown, and Ole Miss wins.
Take the field goal and Ole Miss probably wins.
Perform a play-action pass where nobody can throw and Ole Miss loses.
A drive that started at the MSU 36 yard line didn’t score. The Bulldogs took the lead on their subsequent possession. You never gave up.
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Ole Miss’s defense deserved a better fate. Otis Reese intercepted a pass. Tavius Robinson and Troy Brown forced fumble. The defensive line harassed Will Rogers. But a Rebel defense that rallied a week after being cut through Arkansas received no help from Ole Miss’ offense.
Arnett’s defense didn’t get much help either, but just enough, and Rogers found an open Rara Thomas in the fourth quarter for a crucial touchdown.
The narrative of the MSU season depended on this game. Leach couldn’t afford to lose that rivalry for a third straight season. Arnett’s defense made sure he didn’t.
The Bulldogs had one of the toughest schedules in the nation, but they were armed with an experienced roster and a third-year quarterback. They rode to a 5-1 record to open the season, so going 7-5 into a lackluster bowl would have felt like a missed opportunity.
Coaches say those who win in November are remembered. Well, State went 3-1 in November and won the most important game on its schedule for the first time since 2019.
The Bulldogs are now an attractive candidate for the Citrus Bowl.
More importantly, they regained control of the Sip while Ole Miss awaits Kiffin’s next move.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Mississippi State wins Egg Bowl. Will Lane Kiffin flee from Ole Miss?