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In a Battle of Two 'High-Flying' Offenses That Are Not the Same, Quarterback Play Will Be Essential

Quarterback play will take center stage in Thursday's matchup.

There are very few rivalries in college football that are as heated as The Battle For the Golden Egg -- a yearly showdown between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Ole Miss Rebels.

In this year's matchup, both teams look greatly improved from their 2020 form -- Mike Leach's Air Raid is reaping the benefits of a full season of repetition and Lane Kiffin's offense is in full swing with star quarterback Matt Corral at the helm.

Kiffin and Leach's offenses have both been dubbed "high-flying" several times throughout this season, but just because they may be generalized this way in the media sometimes doesn't mean they're incredibly similar.

In fact, there are several things about them that are quite opposite -- Ole Miss runs the ball much more frequently than Mississippi State does, uses RPOs whereas the Bulldogs don't really dabble in those and makes use of a quarterback with a run element to his game.

"They’re quite a bit different," Leach said. "They’re kind of an RPO offense – run, pass option. And the quarterback keeps it some. Both of us have some tempo going. Both are trying to attack the field. Quarterbacks are key to both."

Leach had a lot of praise for Corral, who is considered the best quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft class by several analysts.

"Corral is the key to it," Leach said. "He figures out who to deal the ball to. He throws it well, hands it off, and runs it himself. It will be exciting to see what he does in the NFL."

The signal-caller remains in contention for the Heisman Trophy heading into a game that could be particularly important both to the race for the honors and to continuing to raise his already-high draft stock.

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He's going to be a tough quarterback to stop, having completed over 67% of his passes for 3,100 yards with 19 touchdowns and just three interceptions, also finding the end zone with his legs 10 times this year.

It will be a task easier said than done.

"You have to have all the space and gaps accounted for," Leach said of what goes into stopping a quarterback like Corral. "The simplest way to put it is to have your eyes in the right place. Be real disciplined about where you put your eyes. And don’t take yourself out of position when you see something that looks like something else."

Looking to the Bulldogs' sideline, the Rebels are going to have their hands full trying to limit sophomore passer Will Rogers with how good of a job he's done operating the Air Raid as of late. He doesn't have nearly the mobility that Corral does, but one could definitely argue that gap between them on passers isn't nearly as large as some may think.

Rogers struggled a bit early on in the season with inconsistencies and holding the ball too long, but has progressed as an overall prospect and seems to be getting the ball out quicker. One of the knocks on him was the notion that he's only effective on short passes, and while the offense does call for a certain level of dink-and-dunk, he's shown accuracy at all levels of the field and has had some really nice deep balls in the most recent stretch of games.

When Rogers is good, it can't get much better -- while he's on the outside looking in, Rogers' name has also popped up in the Heisman race. So far this season, he's completed 76% of his passes for 4,113 yards with 34 touchdowns and just eight interceptions on some 572 passing attempts.

He's made his way into the program and SEC record books on several occasions in 2021, breaking the conference single-game completion percentage record (92.3% with a minimum of 30 passing attempts) against formerly No. 12-ranked Kentucky as he completed 28-of-34 passes for 391 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 31-17 upset victory. 

He also broke two of Dak Prescott's school records in the 55-10 win over Tennessee State last week (MSU single-season passing record, now stands at 4,113 yards and counting and the MSU single-season touchdown record, which now stands at 34).

Rogers and those around him have undoubtedly taken some significant leaps and bounds, as those numbers would reflect. Just as Corral has the opportunity to make a statement in Starkville on Thursday night, so does Rogers.