Jackson Plays To Stretch Senior Season

Never mind what the song says about three. Four, that is the magic number to Gabe Jackson now. As in the opportunity for this Mississippi State senior to make history with a fourth-consecutive bowl trip. "It means a lot. To be part of something that no one has ever done before? That's a great thing and I want to be a part of it."

For offensive guard Jackson and all other Bulldogs to spend another post-season playing will require taking care of some final regular-season business. Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5 SEC) hosts Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4) in the annual Battle for the Golden Egg this Thursday. Kickoff on Scott Field is 6:31.

Egg Bowls are emotionally all-or-nothing anyway. But this year's renewal has higher stakes for the home team, as a loss leaves the Bulldogs at home. In Jackson's case, it ends his Mississippi State career too. So the senior has the obvious added motivation to extend his playing days into one more holiday away from home.

"We look forward to going to bowl games and I love playing in them. Just another game I have longer to play with my teammates."

The fifth-year veteran has played a lot of games already. In fact he's started all of them, his personal streak now standing at 50 games even. That also is one behind Georgia's Aaron Murray for the NCAA active-player streak, and since Murray is now injured Jackson will catch him Thursday. Surpassing, now, that requires walking off Scott Field one last time with the winning squad.

The Bulldogs kept their hopes of history afloat last Saturday by beating Arkansas in overtime. The offense was only on field one snap of extra play. It was enough with freshman quarterback Damian Williams bolting 25 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

Jackson and crew had the usual game review Sunday which was first chance to watch the winning play from a high angle. He'd already seen it up close and real personal since Williams went right through a gap Jackson helped open.

"I took my two steps, saw the linebacker suck-in and said yep, we've got this one. I didn't know it was going to be a touchdown but I knew he was going to get a lot of yards out of it." All the yards needed in fact, and the Dog defense made that touchdown stand up with a four-downs stop of the Razorbacks.

Winning a SEC road game was big enough. For Jackson there was an added degree of relief, because of a regulation miscue. After the Bulldogs drove to the 20-yard line with first down, the ranking veteran on the line jumped the snap count for five yards-backwards.

"Yeah, I was upset! I mean because those little small mistakes cost you in the long run and it almost cost us, I hate those." An offensive pass interference magnified that mistake, though ultimately the Dogs got back to the 20 and tried to kick it, missing. Frustrating to be sure, yet all it did was set up an even more dramatic and in the long-term sense confidence-building finish.

"True! Everything worked out the way it's supposed to be and we came off with a win! So I'm happy." Jackson would have been happy if classmate Tyler Russell had been able to direct a winning drive, of course. Watching a kid like Williams get it done was still pretty impressive though.

"I mean I trust him. If Coach Mullen and the staff trust him to go in, I trust him because I know he's going to make the right decision." And yes, Jackson can see the same comparison MSU fans and media are drawing to another #14 from just a couple of seasons ago. After all, Jackson played half his career in front of Chris Relf.

"Oh yeah, I see it. I see it a lot. And Coach (John) Hevesy is joking around calling him ‘Little Relf' or whatever. But they have a few things that's similar."

There's a twist of sorts to Jackson going for one more bowl berth, not to mention another victory in the Egg Bowl. He could easily have opted to turn professional after his junior (fourth in school) season, with positive draft projections already. Jackson and family gave it close consideration, with the coach's blessing.

Fortunately for State he didn't drag things out and was right back on campus for off-season strength work in January as usual. There've been no regrets since, he said.

"I think it was a great opportunity to come back. And just give another go-round, play my senior year and enjoy it with my teammates." Plus, Jackson had an advantage of learning from an older Dog. When he took his stance at left guard in the 2010 season opener, it was alongside senior tackle Derek Sherrod. That nine-win fall together, as well as a preceding redshirt year, accelerated the younger Dog's development as he watched the best possible example.

"Just his work ethic. He worked on technique, he was fundamentally sound. I watched how he practiced. Even when we didn't have pads on he still worked on technique pretty good and tried to focus on doing that."

And now it is Jackson's name making the rounds, as one of the leading guard prospects available in 2014. "I think I've performed pretty good. Always can be better, every game I look at certain things I could have done better, stayed on blocks longer and things. So it all can be better."

Winning his final Egg Bowl and celebrating at a fourth bowl game? Now that would be best.

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