Mississippi tries to shake struggles, prepare for Egg Bowl

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) Mississippi's football season, which has been mostly miserable, hit a new low last weekend.

The Rebels (5-6, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) played arguably their worst game of the season in a 38-17 road loss against Vanderbilt. Now they must win the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5) at home on Saturday to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season under coach Hugh Freeze.

It's a set of circumstances scarcely imagined three months ago, when the Rebels entered the season as the No. 11 team in the country and had aspirations of an SEC championship.

Freeze acknowledged on Monday that he's got a team that's beat up physically and mentally. He also said that's no excuse when playing against your in-state rival.

''We've got to find out who the warriors are for this week,'' Freeze said. ''That's who we've got to play and get ready to go.''

All eyes will be on Ole Miss freshman quarterback Shea Patterson, who will likely make his third career start.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Patterson was forced into action two weeks ago when starter Chad Kelly went down with a season-ending knee injury. Patterson was impressive in his debut against Texas A&M, throwing for 338 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-28 come-from-behind win.

But he couldn't duplicate that success against the Commodores, completing just 20 of 42 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 51 yards.

Freeze said the problems weren't all Patterson's fault - citing several drops by Ole Miss receivers - but that his quarterback was also suffering through the growing pains that many freshmen experience. He said Patterson missed on a few potential touchdown throws and also had a tendency to take off running when a little more patience could have resulted in a bigger play.

''It's great that we have some extra time this week with classes not in session, that he can get some extra film,'' Freeze said. ''So we can make sure he feels great about the understanding of what we're trying to do this Saturday.''

There are also questions about who is going to be available to play around Patterson.

The team's leading receiver, tight end Evan Engram, is questionable because of a hamstring injury. Offensive linemen Robert Conyers and Sean Rawlings have been battling injuries for several weeks and their availability will be decided later this week.

Even with all those problems, Ole Miss is still about a touchdown favorite on Saturday. The Rebels are playing at home and Mississippi State has its own set of problems, giving up a combined 109 points over the last two weeks in losses to Alabama and Arkansas.

The home team has won 10 of the last 12 games in the series.

''It's our job to get them ready for this game regardless if we have one win, five wins or 10 wins,'' Freeze said. ''We know this game is going to be a battle. It always is.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

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