Dan Mullen officially took over as Mississippi State’s head coach in December 2008. That first year, the first-time head coach admitted he didn’t know much about the Egg Bowl — the Bulldogs’ yearly matchup with in-state rival Ole Miss.
Now in his seventh year with the Bulldogs, it’s clear that Mullen has done some research. He’s even contributing to the magnitude of the rivalry himself.
After surviving a close matchup with Arkansas last week — the teams combined for 101 points and more than 1,000 yards in a shootout — Mullen wanted to make sure his team understood two things.
First, “Don’t confuse bad defense with unbelievable offense,” he said.
Mullen called the matchup between Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Arkansas’ Brandon Allen — who combined for 14 touchdowns — the best battle of quarterbacks he’s ever seen. His defense had no reason to be discouraged.
But, more importantly, there also was a message directed mostly toward the younger players.
“If you thought the celebration last week was good,” he said. “The celebration when you win (the Egg Bowl) is better. This is a rivalry game. This is a big game. Trust me … it’s the best locker room atmosphere you can be in.”
Mullen has wanted to build up the excitement of the Egg Bowl ever since his first year in Starkville. He told his players that a year’s worth of bragging rights is invaluable, and that they weren’t just fighting for their own bragging rights. There are fewer than 100 miles between the schools, and a game like Saturday’s brings Mississippi State fans and their Ole Miss counterparts closer than ever.
“Those are your neighbors,” Mullen said. “The people you go out to restaurants with. Your friends, the people that live on your street, (that) are in your country club, your church. It’s a big deal. There’s either going to be a lot of maroon or a lot of red and blue being worn at church on Sunday. God’s going to smile on all of us the same after the game. But the people wearing their colors will probably think he’s smiling a little bit more at (them).
“That’s why I’ve always treated this game as such an important football game.”
Mullen is focused on building up the significance of Saturday’s game, but when the day itself comes, those emotions will take a backseat to the main attraction.
“You kick the ball off and once that goes, it’s football time,” Mullen said.