By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Dan Mullen loves to talk up Mississippi State’s rivalry with Ole Miss, and this is the week for it.
The No. 25 Bulldogs and Rebels meet in Oxford on Saturday, and Mullen will try to improve to 4-0 in the series. He’s spiced up the rivalry from Day 1 with his words, referring to Ole Miss as “The School Up North,” and he has vowed to never lose an Egg Bowl.
But a reporter noted at Monday’s press conference that Mullen hasn’t been tweaking the Rebels as much the last couple of years. Is he being more respectful of them?
“Not on purpose,” Mullen said. “I don’t have any more respect for them now than I did last year or the year before or the year before that. It’s the same to me.
“Maybe they just haven’t changed their mascots or given me the layup maybe to poke fun at them this year.”
His players often partake in the chatter, because they understand the significance of this game.
“We’re going to practice hard,” tailback LaDarius Perkins said. “Guys are going to get after it, because they know what type of game this is. It’s a big-time in-state rivalry game, and we cannot lose to these guys.”
Senior linebacker Cam Lawrence grew up in Senatobia, about 45 minutes from Oxford, so he has a good feel for the rivalry.
“When I go home I’m hearing all the chatter,” he said. “That’s just your typical rivalry game. I’m undefeated against them, 3-0 right now, and I plan on going 4-0.”
The Ole Miss defense has its issues, but one thing it’s done well is make tackles in the backfield. The Rebels rank eighth nationally in tackles-for-loss (7.64 per game) and 13th in sacks (2.82).
Mullen said that’s due to small, quick players being on the field.
“They move all over the place,” he said. “They very rarely are they going to stand still and play physical, in-your-face, one-on-one football. They’re slanting and blitzing and moving and twisting. And try to use their quickness as their strength to defend against the weakness of the size that they have.”
Senior cornerback Johnthan Banks is one of three finalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, it was announced Monday. The honor is given each year to the country’s most outstanding defensive back.
Banks will attend The Home Depot College Football Awards ceremony on Dec. 6 in Orlando, where the winner will be announced on ESPN. The other finalists are Alabama’s Dee Milliner and Fresno State’s Phillip Thomas.
Banks has 56 tackles and four interceptions this season.