Apparently, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Mississippi State coach Mike Leach are on a mission from God … or at least from South Florida.
These Blues Brothers (the movie that coined that mission statement) of the Delta are old friends who have Mississippi football on the rise while routinely praising the other. This is a direct departure from previous coaches, such as Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss and Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, who avoided uttering the very name of the combatant school.
Kiffin called Leach “the best offensive coach in America” on ESPN’s GameDay last week before his Rebels beat Texas A&M, 29-19.
“Well, he’s kind of setting the stage for a really good Egg Bowl,” Leach responded.
No. 9 Ole Miss (9-2, 5-2 SEC) plays at Mississippi State (7-4, 4-3 SEC) at 6:30 Thanksgiving night on ESPN in the 94th Egg Bowl with the Golden Egg trophy on the table. Ole Miss leads the overall series 63-46-6.
“I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think that he thinks he’s the best offensive coordinator,” volleyed Leach on Kiffin. “So it was modest of him to say. And they’re doing a fine job this year. So, we’ll just let the love keep coming both directions. How about that?”
A river of love apparently now runs through the 100 miles from Oxford to Starkville, which in recent years has been a trail of air urine.
In the 2017 game at Starkville, Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf imitated a dog urinating after he scored a touchdown in the Rebels’ 31-28 win. Ole Miss was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the penalty did not impact the game.
Two years later in Starkville, Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore performed the the same dog trick after a touchdown catch with four seconds to play cut State’s lead to 21-20, but it backfired this time. The 15-yard penalty made the extra point a 35-yard attempt instead of from 20 yards away, and Luke Logan missed it. No overtime, and State won.
The next day, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke was fired after a 4-8 season.
In the 2018 game, there was a brawl at the end of the third quarter in Oxford, and four players were ejected — three from Mississippi State and one from Ole Miss — before State won, 35-3.
Ole Miss won 31-24 last season with no incidents in the first Egg Bowl for each coach.
Kiffin and Leach both moved to Mississippi after the 2019 season, sort of. Each kept their homes in Florida — Kiffin in Boca Raton, where he was coaching Florida Atlantic, and Leach in Key West, where he bought a home after Texas Tech fired him as head coach in 2009 and kept through his years as Washington State’s coach from 2012-19.
“Maybe we were brought here to bring us all together,” Kiffin said when asked about the toxicity of recent Egg Bowls pre-Leach and Lane. “We don’t just hate people because they go to a certain school. I don’t think I knew about the toxicity as you referred to it. I’ve heard about it here or there.”
Kiffin, 46, and Leach, 60, each have California roots. Kiffin played quarterback at Fresno State in the mid-1990s and was an assistant coach at USC from 2001 through 2006. He was head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2007 and ’08 and at USC from 2010-13. Leach is from Susanville, California, and coached at Cal Poly and the College of the Desert in the state in the 1980s.
“I have known him for decades,” Leach said. “We haven’t seen each other as much just because they haven’t had the conventions and the gatherings as much.”
They saw each other at the State Capitol in Jackson in the summer of 2020 for the first time as rival coaches when college coaches from around the state gathered and lobbied successfully for the Confederate portion of the state flag to be removed. In front of a crowd of lawmakers, Leach playfully pulled back Kiffin’s COVID-19 mask and popped it back on his face, like an older brother might do.
“I like him. I’ve always liked him,” Kiffin said. “He’s funny. He’s done a great job wherever he’s been.”
They are both offensive masterminds with rebellious, rambunctious sides.
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers is second in the nation in passing yards with 4,113 and first in attempts with 572. He has completed 435 with 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“He works like crazy,” Leach said of Rogers. “He watches and studies film.”
Ole Miss junior quarterback Matt Corral is No. 15 in the nation with 3,105 yards on 234-of-346 passing with three interceptions and 19 touchdowns. He also has rushed for 552 yards on 133 carries with 10 touchdowns out of a run-pass option attack. The Rebels are No. 5 in total offense with 517.5 yards a game, while Mississippi State is No. 22 with 452.3 a game.
“Corral is the key to it,” Leach said. “He figures out who to deal the ball to, throws it pretty well, hands it off and runs it himself. It will be exciting to see what he does in the NFL.”
Leach runs a more traditional drop-back passing game with Rogers, and he has been running much the same thing since he was the offensive coordinator of coach Hal Mumme’s Air Raid attacks at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State and Kentucky in the 1990s.
“I do think it’s amazing how he’s really not evolved,” Kiffin said. “Usually, if you don’t evolve or don’t keep up with the game, you’re fired or you get passed by. Somehow he came up with something a long time ago that keeps working.”
Footballs will be in the air Thursday night, though rain is in the forecast.
“Both of us will have some tempo going,” Leach said. “Both are trying to attack the field.”