From The Dawghouse

It's an occasional privilege of this profession, however dubious my part herein may be, to be at the scene when Mississippi State history is written. Or even better re-written, as it was yesterday when Anthony Dixon got that rushing record he'd been pointing to since, as he proclaimed, first setting cleat on campus. Well, A.D., the honor is all yours now.

Yes, the Bulldog we all know and love—at least when he's not driving us to distraction just as easily as rousing our cheers—as Boobie has reached the top of the career rushing list. Anthony Dixon finally stands alone, statistically. He has gained the most yards; 3,299 as of today. He has the most 100-yard games, 14. He came into the year already owning the rushing touchdown and total-touchdown marks, which stand now at 37 and 41. By halftime this Saturday he should get his 800th career carry.

Enough numbers for now. We all knew the rushing record would fall yesterday in Murfreesboro of course. And isn't it a pity Dixon couldn't have done the deed on the home field, say last week? Yeah, the real pity being his own summer misadventure that ultimately meant making history far from Scott Field, with only a few hundred compatriots to share the short celebration. My own applause to all fans who joined us there. Oh, well, in a way that says a lot about how our Boobie will be recalled; fortunately there's been a whole lot more strides-forward than steps-back along the winding way. Though I might never get over that 4th-and-short dance number in the 2006 South Carolina game, Dixon's Dog debut.

Never mind. All of us share the privilege of witnessing genuine program greatness in his own inimical action the rest of this year. And there remain larger marks to run for, on the SEC career chart. For example, Dixon just moved into 9th place on the Southeastern Conference touchdown chart tied with fellers by names of Deuce McAllister (another central-state lad) and Darren McFadden. He'll need 50 touchdowns to make the top-five and that's a lot to ask against the defenses to be faced from here on out. But Boobie just ran past Norwood—whose place by great irony he assumed in the Bulldog backfield, making 2002-09 a most remarkable era for State ground-pounders—on the league list. He'll need 532 yards to make the SEC top-ten.

All of which raises a thought: in these remaining five games we may be seeing State rushing standards re-set that are never achieved again. Not that I'm calling Boobie the greatest of Bulldog backs, understand; that's a debate for an off-weekend day. It's because of his own timing and hopes for State's offensive future. We can't dispute that Dixon, and Norwood before him, benefitted from being the best and often only weapon State coaches had at their disposal. Thus they got more chances and bigger stats while the program wasn't getting many wins. Not their fault at all, just timing as I said. One can only wish they had run behind the lines that, to pull out a pair of other greats, Michael Haddix or Michael Davis had clearing the way. Or throwers-and-catchers to keep defenses distributed around the yard instead of stacked at the line.

Which is also why I have to think (hope?) A.D.'s records will hold up for the long haul so to speak. That as Dan Mullen recruits more talent and develops it State doesn't have to rely on a lone big Dog to carry the load. Just the ball.

Not that this will keep current younger fans who never saw Davis or Haddix, or Walter Packer or Jackie Parker for that matter like my own case, from telling future fans celebrating the winning plays made by Dogs of their day-to-come how "you pups oughta seen Anthony Dixon run the football." Another fun part of watching history re-written is the privilege of remembering it as we like, eh?

AND NO RUSSIAN JUDGES: OK, so that is also a very old joke-line that many might not catch. Use that Gaggle or YooHoo or Twister thing on your computer to research. But for all the fittingness of having Dixon set his rushing record with a long and, at the time, crucial touchdown tote, I'll remember more his other score. When Boobie finally (help me here, was this also the first time?) did an old-fashioned leap of the line to break that proverbial plane; made mid-air contact with a couple of Blue Raiders; spun and incredibly landed on both feet. Now that, as a certain coach likes to claim, really was exciting.

Hilarious, too. I couldn't resist getting in a last question in the post-game interview outside the locker room about how it felt to touch-down that way for a touchdown. Mere transcribing the answer doesn't do justice to Dixon's typically-goofy-grinning response. "It felt good, because that turf was hard out there today! And it was cold! So I was glad to land on my feet, I've got burns all up my arms from that turf today and I was glad not to fall on at least one play."

Ahhh, A.D. If it's a long time before his records are threatened, it will be longer before we have anyone as crazily-quotable here. There's a message-board suggestion that I compile some of the best ‘Boobieisms' from his four funny years here. Wish it were possible. Sadly, such things are a casualty of this e-age in that most all interview with and inner-views by Dixon vanished into the ether almost as soon as posted. Which again has this old dog wondering what my successors, whatever the format, will do when they seek facts and details and trivia from State teams and players and games for future use? Kinda hard to make a bound-volume of on-line stories, after all.

But the video of Boobie sticking his landing in a Middle Tennessee end zone will still be shown for a long time, I reckon. Just like that one of Herschel Walker rolling off a Rebel at the goal line and coming down afoot in the end zone back in what, 1981 or '82? Certainly this was a first in my own personal MSU-memory. And I give A.D. a 9.8 score, deducting points only for not keeping the shoulders squared and head straight.

BALL CONTROL: Yes, I know, it was just Middle Tennessee. A Sun Belt squad hosting their first-ever SEC visit, and not doing it very well given a pretty poor less-than-24K-crowd for the occasion. In their modest defense it was the start of their fall break so campus was empty. I do mean empty as when I left the premises around 6:20 the only sounds came from a party a few streets over where a band was playing an absolutely awful rendition of ‘Play that Funky Music White Boy'…a disco-era song that doesn't even merit a rendition for that matter. But I so easily digress.

Dan Mullen and the Dogs weren't downplaying this success, even as they filed out of a locker ‘room' that only the hellhole which is War Memorial Stadium's dressing room could respect. Think rest stop on the Natchez Trace and you've got the dimension about right, though it was far cleaner. The equipment staff literally brought a tent to town to store State stuff under. Now I know I'm sounding harsh and SEC-snobbish, so let me qualify all by saying that for their league and level Middle Tennessee has fine facilities. Heck, they've got more and better elevators than DWS! The fake-grass field was first-class, the stadium well-designed to meet their needs, and the event staffers did all we could ask and more. Kudos, gang. And your baseball field looks outstanding from the outside. But it does say something when the parking lot guard asks all media coming through if they're with ESPN and are giving away tee-shirts. Sorry, sir, couldn't let you have the '98 SEC Championship Game shirt I had packed in the bag for that overnight stay.

Now where was I heading with…oh, yeah. While the Bulldogs did just what a SEC program is supposed to in dominating a lower-league foe, this really was as Mullen said what his team "needed." As in dominating the day defensively, getting just enough done on offense, and most of all "we didn't turn the ball over on offense." This was the coach's lead-theme in Sunday's discussion and for all-too-obvious reasons. When a club has lost the ball 13 total times in three preceding setbacks, including fumbles and interceptions that likely sealed two defeats, one tends to obsess on the subject.

So going a full game with no passes picked and no fumbles recovered by the bad guys (State did put ball on ground twice but covered both) it's a needed encouragement that things are turning back in a better direction. Tyson Lee put the ball where it needed to be on all but maybe one or two, I can't recall now, of his 20 throws and none were really risky throws. 14-of-20 against a SEC defense is a lot to ask, sure, but keeping the ball out of hostile hands is expected and this was a needed result for Lee as well. No, I did not expect further clarification of Chris Relf's status today and we didn't get it.

Maybe Monday, maybe not. For now all we know is that until, or if, Relf returns to good program and school graces Lee is going to get every snap unless something, umm, snaps. Heaven forbid. And again I muse that it's really annoying now to have no practice-observation access to see who the heck really is taking those backup snaps. Though I can also hope we don't have to find out either.

WHERE THE WILD THING REALLY IS: Oh, and yet another Dixon-related note comes to mind after re-reading the above: will Boobie ever get his chance to throw a pass this senior season as practiced in spring? We did see a direct-snap to Chad Bumphis yesterday, and while it lost ground (much like most of those attempts to get Brandon Heavens loose on a reverse to-date) this is still something to look for in coming weeks against even-faster defenses. Since, you know, faster defense can also run themselves out of position faster. And it's rarely a wrong idea to get young Mr. Bumphis the ball anyway, anywhere.

But Chad's had his chance(s) to chunk; Dixon is overdue for some direct-snapping methinks, if only for the post-game amusement of trying to come up with a title. Hey, reckon Boobie can come up with his own rendition of "Where the Wild Things Are"?

FAMILIAR FACES: Well, it officially began today. Questions posed to Dan Mullen re: Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow. We knew it was coming of course, and I've been around this Bulldog-block long enough to accept that in such circumstances Mississippi State itself is shoved into supporting role status while the opponent's connections dominate story lines. Like in the 90s when it was Jackie vs. Texas and the Bulldogs themselves were after-thoughts for both protagonists.

Not that I mind in this setting though, since I've always had a sneaking fondness for Florida football. I am technically a Florida native, after all, though only by coincidence of Dad finishing his USAF stint with the 369th bomber group at McDill in Tampa before escaping back home to Jones County. As I've often said, I'm one of 39 actual living natives of the Sunshine State and none of us live there.

Anyway, I've never loathed the lizards as so many seem impelled to. And it takes a pretty bitter SEC case not to admire a certain quarterback whose name will arise an estimated 2,459 times this week (we got off to a strong start in today's teleconference already). In my own case I'm looking forward to having an active Heisman holder playing on Scott Field for the first time…ever? I believe so. Herschel Walker got his junior-season Trophy after his '82 game at State and didn't come back. The rest of the SEC's Trophy winners either didn't play State (Frank Sinkwich '42) or won it after senior seasons; Billy Cannon '59, Spurrier hisself '66, Pat Sullivan '71, Bo Jackson '85, Danny Wuerrfel '96. So Tim Tebow will be a first in this regard. I think. Corrections are encouraged.

It's a curious situation for Mullen to handle though. I mean, his relationships with both Tebow and Meyer are stronger than most in this come-and-go profession, all the more so from the success they've shared…and how much of that was simply due to said relationships. I've no doubt all three would have won big had they never met in any combination(s). That they did, and did win in such superlative ways, only emphasizes the story angles this week.

But…it will get a little bit tiresome before Tuesday when media access ceases and Mullen can go about prepping his own, current club uninterrupted. To his credit the coach is showing some wry humor already, such as today's comment about facing his prodigious protégé. "As far as on the field, I don't think anybody jumps up and down and say I can't wait to see Tim Tebow on the other sideline."

And lest I seem sour on my own peers, let it be noted Mullen did provide an interesting insight. Asked if he might could have keys to what is coming based on how Tebow looks at the line, Mullen said he never studied his quarterback from that aspect in their three seasons together. Which only makes sense upon further thought; why would he as an offensive coach have looked for quarterback-clues from an ‘opposing' defensive angle? Now a baseball coach, that'd be a different matter as they see EVERYTHING and remember it for future reference. Maybe John Cohen can come by and do a little extra scouting of Tebow ‘tells' this week.

Now I can't automatically second Mullen's assertion that Tebow is "the greatest player in the history of the game" as he said today. Not even in SEC history, as I saw Walker and Jackson after all. No matter. He's the undisputed exemplar of our era. And I wholeheartedly agree with Mullen commenting that the challenge of this game is not matching play-books with his former boss. "It's going to be tough because he's got an awful lot of talented football players standing on his left and his right," Mullen said of Meyer, again showing the good humor he'll need all this week.

And Mullen's team? Well, it's difficult to imagine any squad making a more total transition than the Bulldogs are, from playing Middle Tennessee to preparing for Florida. So what if both operate spread schemes with running quarterbacks? Yeah, and a '69 VW Beetle and '09 Porsche Turbo both use gasoline.

If you wish to extend the metaphor into this week's matchup, feel free since State and Florida will be calling plays from the same basic book. Not exactly the same since, as Mullen often explains, season schemes are selected around personnel and particularly the play-caller. But the Bulldog boss knows better than give Lee the same specific assignments as he would have Tebow a year ago. The themes are the same, the details differ. And once Mullen has the caliber quarterback he ultimately intends to develop, we'll see yet another altered collection of plays to work with.

But that's in the MSU future. For now? It's no insult to say this is a miss-match in terms of total talents and experiences and just plain confidences. The Gators have rings; the Bulldogs have hopes. This doesn't mean anyone on either side is conceding any outcomes…though neither would I imagine Florida players to care that the last time their ancestors left Scott Field unscathed some now-mythical figure named ‘Reagan' had just begun his second lease on the White House. Players today don't know or care about history anyway, beyond what they make themselves.

Thus Mullen can candidly say of his players, "I think it's an exciting week for them. They get to play the number-one ranked team in the country, at home. It's a game we need every single player to play great. We need the whole state of Mississippi to show up. It's a big game for us. I don't think my past is going to be any sort of distraction for us." Nor will Mullen let it become one for him, presumably. He's got the usual job to do if it is to produce an unusual result for himself and Mississippi State's players.

Or as he said, "And hopefully find a way to make a big upset."

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