Brown, Bulldogs Playing To Recover The Egg

Well, he watched Damian Williams come off a high school bench as a freshman and win…against his own team even. Now Ryan Brown figures his college teammate owes him one, in the form of winning this Battle for the Golden Egg.

This pair of Louisiana lads, from rival high schools, wear the same uniform Thursday as they play for the highest gridiron prize in Mississippi. Not that defensive end Brown feels like an outsider any more. "I learned what it's all about last year. I'm from out of state but it's really a battle and fun to play in."

All the more fun if one wins, which Brown didn't get to do as a true freshman in the 2012 trip to Oxford. With this rematch at Scott Field he expects to play his part in squaring accounts, as part of a Bulldog defense that might be finding its identity at the all-or-nothing end of the 2013 season.

Beginning, of course, up front. "Our leadership has stepped up," Brown said. "We found out who our leaders are and we follow those guys. Denico Autry, no question. I've seen Kaleb Eulls step up to be a leader, not only on the D-line but on the team."

Brown doesn't count himself among that leadership just yet. But the true sophomore has filled a rotation role at one end of the line, usually opposite Autry. When the Bulldogs see need for a front-four that is a bit stronger against power running plays, Brown or A.J. Jefferson steps in for pass-rush expert Preston Smith. What is worth noting though is that all ends of whatever skills have been making more plays of late.

It's largely because tackles Eulls, P.J. Jones, and Chris Jones are drawing more blocking attention; even regular double-teams, Brown figures. "And I thank them for that! Because that's creating more plays for us, something a lot of people don't see. Those are the guys actually making them."

Something else interesting, is the plays being made don't include many sacks. This can be explained by the sorts of quarterbacks State has seen in the last four weeks or offensive styles that just don't give many opportunities to bag a passer. And this regular-season finale sets up similarly with a quick-release passer who is maybe even quicker to take off and get downfield.

So this sets up as perhaps more of a contain over attack situation, and Brown understands. "We do our job…but we love sacks. What D-lineman doesn't? So we try to make more schemes that we can get back there, and the quarterbacks know we're back there."

To be sure the top talking points in Bulldog country this Egg Bowl have not been about the defense. Or even about the offense itself. Quarterback is the all-consuming obsession given the likelihood that Williams will be given charge not just for an arch-rivalry game, as great a burden as that will be. This would be the first college start for the true freshman triggerman, and in a game which will settle if Mississippi State goes bowling a fourth-straight winter or spends the holidays at home wondering how the season went so wrong.

Funny thing though, the squad seems comfortable with a rookie in charge. Brown maybe most of all, having seen the hard way what Williams is capable of in such a crunch.

"Damian was my rival in high school. We used to play the Megaphone Game and I haven't had a chance to win it!" That's because Williams' Archibishop Rummel was able to beat Brown's Archbishop Shaw. In fact, Brown had a hand in thrusting Williams onto the big prep stage when the Shaw defense knocked Rummel's starter out of the game.

"Our team got happy because oh, we've got a freshman in and he's not going to do much," Brown said. "He threw for about 200 yards that opened my eyes that he was a heck of a player!" Brown did get to sack Williams a few times, or at least hit him when possible. "Yep, a lot of times…and he doesn't like me to talk about it!"

"But he's a great guy and deserves all he's given."

Thursday night nothing will be given to Dog defenders but a make-or-break challenge. All else, they have to take. And along that line, Mississippi State has been coming up with plenty of turnovers this month, with four fumbles recovered and six interceptions in November. The win at Arkansas came about not only on Williams' touchdown run, but a strip-and-recover by FS Nickoe Whitley in regulation and a game-ending interception by CB Taveze Calhoun.

Continuing such a trend could be the factor on which this Egg Bowl turns, so to speak. "We've been noticing that in practice, because that's the first thing we do," Brown said. "We call out who turns the ball over and try to get the ball out every time. We kind of celebrate them and try to have fun with it."

The best fun of all will be recovering the Golden Egg from its exile. Outside projections point the other way, of course. Then again Brown was part of the Bulldog bunch favored to retain possession last season and remembers too well how that turned out.

"This week is very different, it's more personal than everything. They kind of took the Egg Bowl from us last year so it's very personal to us."

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