STARKVILLE – Anthony Dixon has been a solid feature back in his three-plus seasons at Mississippi State, but there have always been a few knocks against him, namely his weight and his happy feet.
These days, Dixon is knocking out those criticisms.
Through his first two games this season, the senior has rushed for 215 yards, including 123 in Saturday’s 15-3 win at Vanderbilt. Since returning from his one-game suspension due to legal issues, Dixon has shown a harder edge in his running than he had in the past.
“I might just be out there straining a little bit more,” Dixon said Monday. “Because every year I’ve been here I’ve picked up a little bit, I get smarter and get the flow of the game and know how it’s going to go.”
Dixon has some impressive career numbers. He’s the school’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (31) and rushing attempts (694), and he’s third in career yards with 2,818, just 394 behind leader Jerious Norwood, who Dixon succeeded at tailback.
But Dixon has been known to “dance” in the backfield, and his weight has held him back, too. Last season, he rushed for 869 yards a year after gaining 1,066, although his yards per carry went up from 3.7 to 4.4.
He’s down to 235 pounds, about 20 below last year’s weight, and he’s been more decisive in picking a hole and bursting through it.
“I think his attitude’s changed a lot. He’s been more focused on being the great running back he can be,” center J.C. Brignone said. “When he gets up, it doesn’t matter if it’s a rainy day or a sunny day, he’s coming out with a full attitude and ready to go.”
Dixon’s work ethic and talent have never been issues. It’s what got him on the field as a freshman, when he earned four starts and rushed for 668 yards.
“He’s a really hard practice player, and I think that’s pretty evident when you go watch the game, you see how hard he plays in the game,” coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s because he practices that hard.”
Dixon has more help this season than last, in the form of fellow backs Christian Ducré, Robert Elliott and Arnil Stallworth, not to mention quarterback Chris Relf, who’s second on the team with 178 yards rushing.
Dixon has carried the ball 41 times over the two games, and he doesn’t have to be a workhorse.
In the fourth quarter against Vandy, Dixon broke off a 40-yard run to spark a game-icing 80-yard touchdown drive.
“I think he could probably give us even more than we’ve asked of him the last couple games,” Mullen said. “Because of the depth we have at the tailback position, we give him breathers. If you’ll look at the last game, that might have paid off with how fresh he still was in the fourth quarter running the football.”
Perhaps that will help this weekend, when the Bulldogs (2-1, 1-1 SEC) host No. 7 LSU (3-0, 1-0). Dixon has not had much luck against the Tigers – in three games, he’s gained only 100 total yards and one touchdown on 36 carries.
The sense of urgency that accompanies a senior season could help, too. Dixon’s intent is to return MSU to a bowl game, and he’s been running like a man singularly focused on that goal.
Dixon said his time in Starkville hasn’t gone by too fast, “because I’ve enjoyed every minute, every hour I’ve been up here. But I’ve put in my time, put in my work, and I’m ready to go out with a bang.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal