Mississippi embarrasses Mississippii State in lopsided Egg Bowl

OXFORD, Miss. -- Cotton might be king in Mississippi again.

Mississippi (No. 25 AP), spurred by a chance to play in a New Year's Day bowl, set a school record with 11 sacks, got four touchdown passes from Jevan Snead and routed Mississippi State 45-0 Friday in the most lopsided Egg Bowl in 37 years.

"Total domination," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said after his first Egg Bowl. "And it starts with our defense."

Cotton balls rained down on fans from the top of the stadium as the Rebels (8-4, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) wrapped up a blowout that could send them to the Cotton Bowl.

With representatives from the SEC's top three non-BCS bowls -- the Capital One, Peach and Cotton bowls -- in attendance, the Rebels needed to put on a top performance to pull in a top payday. Ole Miss finishes second in the SEC West and with top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Florida both possibly heading to BCS bowls, the Rebels and Georgia figure to be selected next by affiliated bowls.

Most assume Ole Miss is headed to the Cotton Bowl, the traditional postseason destination for the SEC West's top team not involved with the Bowl Championship Series. But the Capital One Bowl has first pick and representatives from the Orlando, Fla., game saw a heck of a show from the Rebels, who have peaked at the end of the season with their fourth straight win.

"It's so huge," Nutt said. "Our name gets mentioned for the next 30 days or so, recruiting goes to another level and in this league there are no 'bad' bowls."

Snead and the offense started the rout with a flourish. Dexter McCluster scored on a 36-yard run out of the Wild Rebel formation just 2:20 in and the Rebels led 24-0 at the end of the first quarter after Snead completed his first nine passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He also hit a wide-open Mike Wallace with a 72-yard scoring pass to make it 31-0 at halftime.

Snead missed most of practice this week with a bruised shoulder, but was quickly up to speed with crisp, accurate passes that kept the Rebels sprinting downfield.

"We wanted to send a message," Snead said. "We knew they would come out with intensity and we knew we had to top that."

The Ole Miss defense was even more impressive, hitting Mississippi State's quarterbacks on nine of their first 10 pass attempts, intercepting two of their first five passes and knocking starter Tyson Lee from the game twice with a bruised shoulder and a cut to his face, though he later returned.

Already second in the nation with 8.36 tackles for loss per game and ninth in run defense (97 yards per game), the Rebels turned it up against the overwhelmed Bulldogs (4-8, 2-6).

Mississippi State lost 97 yards on sacks alone and Ole Miss held the Bulldogs to minus-51 yards rushing, busting the previous school record of minus-16 set against Auburn in 1992. They also had 14 tackles for loss.

Defensive end Greg Hardy and tackle Peria Jerry led the charge. Jerry had four tackles for loss, including two sacks, and Hardy had three sacks. Freshman tackle Jerrell Powe finished with 1 1/2 sacks, two tackles for loss and an interception.

Jerry said he never felt sorry for the Mississippi State quarterbacks, who took a mercilessly beating.

"Quarterbacks get it easier than anybody else in practice, so when you get them in the game you've got to make them pay," Jerry said.

Mississippi State crossed midfield just twice, and the second time the Bulldogs were quickly pushed back across the 50 by a personal foul penalty.

Ole Miss held Mississippi State to 37 total yards on 56 plays and limited tailback Anthony Dixon to 14 yards a week after he rushed for a career-high 179 yards against Arkansas.

"I didn't see that one coming," Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said.

The most lopsided Egg Bowl since the Rebels won 48-0 in 1971 and another poor offensive performance by the Bulldogs will cast more doubt on the fifth-year coach's future. He signed a contract extension following last year's breakthrough 8-5 performance, but is under pressure after difficulties on offense and special teams cost the Bulldogs this year.

Mississippi State would have to eat a multimillion buyout if Croom is fired, but the Bulldogs have had only one winning season since 2000.

There is speculation Croom will be asked to make changes to his coaching staff to save his job and the coach said recently he was open to change that will help make the team a conference contender. Athletic director Greg Byrne told The Associated Press before the game that a meeting with Croom has been set to discuss the future of the program, but he wouldn't say when.

Players showed support for their coach after the game.

"I wanted to come out and win one for coach Croom," wide receiver Delmon Robinson said. "It's not about the plays, it's about the people out their executing the plays."