The No. 14 Mississippi State Bulldogs ended the 2017 regular season with a dispiriting 31-28 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels in the Egg Bowl at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Mississippi.
Jordan Ta'amu threw for 247 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Starkville native A.J. Brown caught six passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. Brown caught the attention of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who's an Ole Miss alumnus:
Donte Moncrief @drm_12
Aj brown going federal !!! Young boy a problem .2017-11-24 02:50:56
The defeat came at a great cost for Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs lost starting quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to an ankle injury that will almost certainly keep him out of the team's bowl game, according to ESPN.com.
Fitzgerald tweeted about the injury shortly after heading back to the locker room:
Nick Fitzgerald @nickfitz07
I’ll be back stronger and better than ever! I love all my Hailstate fam and all I want right now is for all of y’all to ring your bells as loud as you can and support this team to a huge egg bowl win! #HaiIState2017-11-24 01:56:54
Fitzgerald's injury gave Mississippi State fans a glimpse of the future. Keytaon Thompson was the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class, per 247Sports' composite rankings, but Thursday night showed the true freshman is a work in progress.
Thompson finished 13-of-27 for 195 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also fumbled the ball twice.
The Mississippi State defense did its best to keep the Bulldogs in the game, but the offense turned the ball over five times, which negated the Bulldogs' 501-355 advantage in total yards.
Mississippi State's drive chart didn't make for great reading to start the game:
Joel Coleman @JoelTColeman
10 drives for MSU tonight. Results: INT PUNT PUNT INT FG FUMB FG PUNT FUMB FUMB2017-11-24 02:54:02
Mississippi State remained within striking distance of Ole Miss at halftime despite three first-half turnovers. The Ole Miss offense sputtered after Jordan Wilkins' 22-yard touchdown run on the Rebels' opening drive. The visitors scored three points over the remainder of the half to head into the locker room with a 10-6 advantage.
A pair of third-quarter touchdowns gave the Rebels some breathing room. Ta'amu hit Brown for a 77-yard touchdown pass with 7:13 left in the quarter and connected with D.K. Metcalf on another big play as the two combined for a 63-yard score on Ole Miss' first play of the drive.
Thompson stopped the bleeding with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Deddrick Thomas with 9:16 left in the game to bring Mississippi State to within 11 points, 24-13.
Wilkins responded with a 46-yard touchdown run on Ole Miss' next possession. CBS Sports' Barrett Sallee thought the senior running back has had a strong second half of the season:
Barrett Sallee @BarrettSallee
Jordan Wilkins running hard. He's been doing a lot of that the last six or so weeks.2017-11-24 01:13:33
Mississippi State made things interesting with two touchdowns inside the final five minutes but failed to recover an onside kick after a one-yard touchdown run by Thompson with 1:05 remaining, which ended the Bulldogs' comeback attempt.
Thursday's victory is Ole Miss' sixth of this year, which would normally grant the Rebels bowl eligibility. However, the school self-imposed a one-year postseason ban for this year in the wake of an NCAA investigation.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, was assured of a bowl bid regardless of the result. 247Sports' Brad Crawford wondered whether Fitzgerald's injury will impact where the Bulldogs ultimately land:
Brad Crawford @BCrawford247
Not sure how attractive an 8-4 Mississippi State without Nick Fitzgerald (if Bulldogs lose tonight) would be to Orlando or Tampa. Auburn in NY6 imo with a win or loss to Bama, LSU to Outback. Door slightly open for South Carolina to move up vs. Clemson.2017-11-24 01:49:47
USA Today's Dan Wolken believes bigger changes could be on the horizon:
Dan Wolken @DanWolken
Going to be a very interesting weekend in Starkville. If I had to bet, I’d say this will be the final quarter Mullen coaches at Mississippi State. Things will move fast.2017-11-24 03:30:37
Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde reported the Florida Gators had Chip Kelly atop their coaching wish list but had contingency plans in mind should Kelly spurn the school. Forde included Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen among the potential candidates.
Not only has Mullen strengthened his coaching credentials by turning Mississippi State around after Sylvester Croom's underwhelming tenure, he also has a previous connection to Florida. He was the Gators' offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer before leaving in December 2008 to coach the Bulldogs.
Losing Mullen would be a significant blow for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are destined for their eighth straight bowl game after having reached seven postseason bowls in the previous 27 seasons before Mullen arrived.
Between losing to their hated rivals and watching what could be Mullen's last game on the sideline, the 2017 Egg Bowl is one edition Bulldogs fans will want to quickly forget.