A victory? Make that the victory #4-ranked Mississippi State wants most to cap the 2014 regular season, and absolutely needs to sustain post-season possibilities. Old Dog Beckwith understands as well as anyone how to prioritize Saturday’s trip to Ole Miss.
“You don’t want to get ahead of yourself,” Beckwith said. “There’s a lot on the line going into this game, finishing 11- will be great for the program. We know we’ve got a good chance of being in the four-team playoff, finishing strong and beating a top-15 team.”
The Rebels are just outside that 15-range in current polls, but only within the ‘what done lately’ outlook of pollsters. When on their best game this is a top-ten team, which is both playing at home for the scheduled finale and playing for some pretty solid stakes of their own. Such as, regaining the Golden Egg they took from Mississippi State two years ago with Beckwith and club unable to prevent it.
And to be clear, this senior offensive guard doesn’t begrudge Ole Miss’ 2012 show. They earned the right on the field to have fun off it. Besides, nothing better demonstrated how seriously Rebels take their real rivalry. One which begins in childhood, Beckwith can attest.
“Especially guys from Mississippi know. Coming up you had your friends, the group that was Ole Miss, Mississippi State and you were always arguing. I’m about to be 23 and I still have a little rivalry with my friends.” Not just buddies either; Beckwith has a brother that dared attend the other school. “So we’re always reacting back and forth.”
Bulldog Beckwith had the far-happier reaction last year. There’s another image burned into his Egg Bowl memory bank, from 2013’s fourth quarter. Mississippi State was giving as good as got with the favored Rebels despite quarterback Dak Prescott staying sidelined three whole periods by injury. Trailing 10-7 midway of the fourth, though, Coach Dan Mullen finally let Prescott take over.
“I’m sure y’all remember it, it was awesome,” Beckwith said. At least it was for the home team and fans. For the visitors? “You could tell it kind of took the air out of them when they saw Dak come in, the crowd got nuts. Like ‘dang, here we go…’ Of course they kept playing hard, but seeing that momentum switch.”
Entirely, as Prescott rallied State to a tying field goal; then scored the winning touchdown in overtime. That piece of Egg Bowl history is serving as a present lesson too, since the ’14 Rebels will rely on a gimpy star quarterback of their own, on their field, with strong spoiler ambitions. As any episode of this intrastate squabble required extra incentive.
Least of all down in the trenches where the contact comes first and furious. Just the way an old line-Dog like Beckwith likes it.
“I wouldn’t say you don’t play with a lot of energy in other games. But it means a lot more to you to finish blocks in games like this. You strive to do a lot more to finish blocks, get knockdowns, and be dirty and play harder every play. You hate to say that about a certain game but it makes you reach your potential a lot more.”
OK, about that ‘dirty’ bit. Anyone whose played the game, or even just been able to observe the hand-to-hand (and fists, forearms, elbows, knees, feet, facemasks, whatever can be brought to bear) battles from sideline safety knows what Beckwith means. “It’s funny on the football field some of the stuff that goes on,” Beckwith said.
Beginning with banter, if that’s the word for it. Though compared to the manic chatter between defensive backs and receivers, what gets said across the interior line of scrimmage is, well… “It’s almost like kid’s trash-talk,” said Beckwith. “’Man you’re terrible, and I’m coming for you next play.’ It’s not really big-boy talk, just spur of the moment. Nothing crazy. It goes on every game but a lot more in these type of games.”
Probably because linemen, both sides, let their actions speak loudest and hit hardest. But, and this is critical for blockers, control remains critical. Contrary, but critical and all the more so in a rivalry setting with post-season implications.
“You have to check yourself. It’s still a football game, don’t let it be more than that. Be smart. You’re probably going to get hit after the whistle sometimes, something is going to happen in the pile. Don’t let your emotions take over the game, just keep doing your thing.” Yes, even while playing in as hostile an environment as a Bulldog experiences. There is no denying that for all Prescott’s heroics last year the home field support did as much to keep that team in the contest for three quarters as any schemes.
This is not the same Rebel defense as a year ago. It’s better, completely better, as well as a change of pace for State. “They’re not like most teams, they’re a smaller group that does a lot of movement, twisting and stunting,” Beckwith said. “But they do it well, they’re really fast guys. They pursue sideline to sideline well, and their numbers speak for itself. A little undersized but they make up for that with speed and pursuit.”
Teams which have moved the ball on Ole Miss have done it with strong running right into the teeth of the defense. Because barring breakdowns there just is no ‘edge’ to run to. State did get a taste of this lateral range two weeks ago at Alabama, but the alignments aren’t the same.
“We’re going to watch the film, try to technique and gets hands on them and open lanes for Josh (Robinson) and Dak. And hold our protection, they’re going to do some kind of quirky stuff with twists and all that. We have to take care of our assignments and run off the ball, and not panic and hesitate. Just stay on your lane and gets your hands on them and do what we do.”
Which means let Prescott do all he can do, distributing the ball or hauling himself. Beckwith saw his quarterback struggle somewhat in the second half of the schedule. But he also watched Prescott return more to early-season form while whipping Vanderbilt. “I think that was a good game for him to get his momentum back,” Beckwith said.
“Having a good game, a pick-me-up game almost you’d say to get everybody back going, is kind of similar to last year.” Except this time Prescott will start. Beckwith reports in fact that Prescott too recalls 2012, when he ran out the fourth period and directed a touchdown drive which could not change the outcome. Or take the sting out of that video show.
“He’s been looking forward to this one, definitely,” Beckwith said. “He’s one of my best friends and we’ve been talking about this game all year.”
There is a different level of talk to this rematch of course, what with all the high hopes Mississippi State takes to Oxford. Little would make the rivals happier for a day than dashing those. Beckwith has seen his share of teases and taunts from the Other Side, naturally. “Just to get at you! It reiterates how big a game it is, seeing how much it means to older people and people who have been through the rivalry through the years.
“Especially with the implications on our side this year, they’re trying to be a spoiler. They know we have a chance to go to the four-team playoff if we win this game. And you never know what is going to happen in the Alabama-Auburn game, which is after our game. It’s a lot of stuff on the line this game so you know you have to do your thing.”