STARKVILLE – Mississippi State is giving this week the extra-special treatment.
As the Bulldogs prepare to face Ole Miss in what is already a sold-out Egg Bowl on Saturday, they are pouring every ounce of energy and effort into the week of practice, weightlifting and everything else.
With postseason hopes dashed, MSU (4-7, 2-5 SEC) is truly treating this week like a bowl game week.
“You change your whole approach and how we prepare,” first-year coach Dan Mullen said at his Monday press conference. “We’ll change our practice schedule, we’ll change our weightlifting routine.
“When you get to rivalry week, we want to make sure that this week’s different than the other weeks that we prepare for in the season.”
The Bulldogs seem to have quickly put last week’s 42-21 loss to Arkansas behind them. Mullen said they had a good practice Sunday, and he expects more good practices to come.
“It’s going to be more intense. It’s going to be the most intense game that we’re going to play in, with it being a rivalry game,” said senior tailback Anthony Dixon, who’s rushed for 168 total yards in the three previous Egg Bowls.
“Coach Mullen is stressing that, and us team captains, we’re going to be stressing that to the other players, that we’ve got to pick it up, because it’s going to be some dudes out there throwing some knockout blows.”
No. 20 Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3) delivered an early knockout blow to MSU last year in a 45-0 thumping in Oxford. The Rebels had 11 sacks and held State to just 37 yards offense.
But this is a new Bulldog team under Mullen, and the players expect better preparation to yield better results.
“I know they’re going to come the same way they did last year,” center J.C. Brignone said, “but we’ll be ready for them.”
– Mullen and his players are quick to admit that they will not be able to shut down Ole Miss standout Dexter McCluster, who has run wild out of the Wild Rebel formation .
McCluster, a speedy 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior, has run for 903 yards and six touchdowns to go with 412 yards and two TDs receiving. He’s averaging 122.1 all-purpose yards per game, seventh in the SEC.
He had a school-record 282 rushing yards against Tennessee, and in last week’s 25-23 win over then-No. 10 LSU, McCluster rushed for 148 yards and threw a touchdown pass.
“I don’t think you can contain him and stop him from getting his yards. You’ve just got to limit him from getting his yards,” senior middle linebacker Jamar Chaney said.
“I think you’ve got to do that by running to the ball. He’s going to make a lot of people miss, but you’ve got 11 people on defense, so it’s going to take 11 people to tackle him.”
Conerly on the line?
– Conventional wisdom says Dixon and McCluster are not only battling for victory, but for the Conerly Trophy, which will be awarded to the state’s top college football player two days after the Egg Bowl.
Dixon has rushed for 1,258 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he needs 126 yards against Ole Miss to break J.J. Johnson’s single-season rushing record.
Dixon said he’s looking forward to matching McCluster’s effort.
“It’s always fun to go blow for blow. Whatever he do, I’ll be trying to match it,” Dixon said. “I just want to be the best back when I walk on the field.”
– Defensive lineman Brandon Cooper (back) could’ve played against Arkansas, Mullen said, but it was decided to get the 6-1, 255-pound junior closer to 100 percent for this week.
Running back Christian Ducré (knee bruise), who’s missed the last two games, is day-to-day and could play Saturday.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal