STARKVILLE – Friday, Nov. 28, 2008. It was a day to forget for Mississippi State football.
That much was evident on the bruised and bloodied face of quarterback Tyson Lee, after he had been sacked numerous times by Ole Miss in the Rebels’ 45-0 Egg Bowl romp in Oxford.
“It was a lot of confusion,” recalled Lee, now a senior, “understanding what we were doing wrong, how they were getting back there and how they were moving so fast.”
MSU had 37 total yards of offense. Tailback Anthony Dixon, who became State’s all-time leading rusher this season, was held to 17 yards on eight carries.
“Forty-five-nothing, that’s embarrassing,” said linebacker Jamar Chaney, who could only watch thanks to an injury.
Center J.C. Brignone, a junior now, described the scene as “awful. You kind of start pointing fingers, you kind of start looking – but that was the old team.”
Despite appearances – MSU is 4-7, 2-5 in SEC play – that 2008 Bulldog squad, which finished 4-8, no longer exists. When they face No. 20 Ole Miss today at a sold-out Davis Wade Stadium, last year will finally be a distant memory.
And yet, that’s what also makes Friday, Nov. 28, 2008, a memorable date for MSU. Head coach Sylvester Croom resigned under pressure the next day, and the Dan Mullen era was ushered in.
While the wins haven’t come in abundance yet, a new attitude is evident among the players, and that goes back to the demanding, self-assured Mullen.
While he claims he hasn’t talked much about last year’s debacle, players say Mullen and strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis have harped on it quite a bit.
“It’s been brought up a lot,” Chaney said. “Coach Mullen, coach Balis, they keep it fresh in our mind what happened last year down in Oxford.”
MSU feel it’s better equipped to handle the Rebels this time, especially up front. Ole Miss recorded a school-record 11 sacks, giving State a total of 37 sacks allowed for the 2008 season.
Through 11 games this fall, MSU has yielded just 18 sacks.
O-line accepts the challenge
“I think we got the label of offensive line, 30-something sacks, this and that, and they look awful. I can’t stand that,” Brignone said. “So we took that as a big thing for us to come around and just as a whole pick ourself up.”
The passing game itself has been mostly ineffective for MSU, so run blocking might be a meatier issue today. Dixon’s 125.8 yards per game ranks second in the SEC and sixth in the country.
As a team, MSU is averaging 219.5 yards on the ground. Ole Miss allows 124.3 rushing yards, fourth in the SEC.
So expect MSU to try and hammer away at the Rebels and, in the process, chip away at the bad memories.
“We’re going to pound the ball like we’ve been doing all year and do the same thing we’re doing,” said Brignone, “and come out with a ‘W.’ ”
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Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal