Of course these Dog days are all about an over-riding rivalry to be played-out for the 111th time this Saturday, as #4-ranked Mississippi State ventures to #18 Ole Miss. The Bulldogs arrive with post-season possibilities to play for, both Southeastern Conference and College Football Playoffs.
They also are taking the Golden Egg to Oxford…with every intention of bringing it safely back home. It won’t be easy at all, running back Robinson knows now after seasons in the series.
“They’re going to give us our best, and we’re going to give them their best,” Robinson said, battering pronouns with the same flair as the ‘Bowling Ball’ attacks defenses. Regardless, “It’s got a lot of excitement, a lot of hype behind it. But at the same time you have to stay mentally focused and prepare yourself.”
Robinson certainly should be physically primed for the twelfth game of this grueling season. He only hauled the ball seven times, for 63 net yards, last week in Mississippi State’s rout of Vanderbilt. In fact, over the last three games the team’s top rusher has just 25 combined carries and 133 yards. Some of it was planned, as Coach Dan Mullen wanted to give other Bulldog backs more turns against Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt.
And, some was how the game developed. Alabama’s defense stifled the Bulldog ground game like no other opponent has. Despite the November slow-down, Robinson still has accumulated 1,084 yards and averaged 6.6 per touch. He already has the sixth-highest season yardage and with at least two more games to play Anthony Dixon’s 2009 record of 1,391 yards is within sight.
But, this is Robinson’s first start in an Egg Bowl. To be sure he played last year, even scoring State’s only touchdown in regulation play. Lining up for the first snap adds just that much more incentive…as if any were needed. Robinson doesn’t, not any more.
There was a time though that this game which means most to Mississippians wasn’t at the top of Louisiana lad Robinson’s college check-list. In fact, “I really didn’t hear nothing about it until I got here,” he can confess now. No, not even with all the ‘Our State’ talk from Mullen during recruiting, constant reminders of Egg Bowl priority, even the countdown clock Robinson saw during his first visit to the locker room. The old one that is, it has followed the squad to the splendid new Seal Complex and clicks off every second of the Mississippi State calendar running from one Egg Bowl to the next.
“You’ve got to experience a game before you understand what the rivalry means to the state of Mississippi,” Robinson said. His own experience came not as a 2011 redshirting freshman, but a year later. When the 2012 Dogs saw the home team take away their Egg.
That sight changed everything for young Mr. Robinson.
“I really didn’t pay attention to the rivalry until we went to Oxford. They stormed the field, that’s when I really felt the heat of the rivalry.” And, when he took more serious notice of the countdown clock.
So when the Bulldogs won back the Egg last year in the game’s first-ever overtime, Robinson was celebrating as if born to the rivalry. And, appreciating what it meant to everyone involved after watching the Rebels give their own best shots. Just the way a game such as this should be played.
“It was two teams going as hard as they can for their program. The state of Mississippi, we’re fighting for a trophy.” For a ticket to bigger things beyond the state borders, too, in SEC and CFP terms, but none of that can come to pass without winning this Saturday.
Among allllll the matchup aspects to this 2014 collision, foremost must be how the Bulldogs’ trademark ground game will approach a Rebel defense built specifically to hold the line. From sideline-to-sideline at that. Ole Miss has allowed some uncharacteristic yards in the last two SEC setbacks but is still a stout unit to run against.
Robinson is rightly respectful…but not worried.
“We don’t really prepare for a defense. We prepare for us. Just play Mississippi State ball and make sure we’re doing the little things we’re supposed to do.” Hmmm, OK. But isn’t the Ole Miss defensive line and linebackers something special to prepare for? Maybe not the biggest group at the point of contact but physical beyond their listed size and exceptionally fast?
All true. And still, “Their front seven is just another front seven to us,” Robinson said. Before any take that comment, print it in 60-point type and pin it to a locker room wall, context is necessary. Robinson is not down-playing the defensive prowess State has to prepare for; he is sticking to this MSU offense’s all-season theme whether scouting Southern Mississippi or Ole Miss and every sort of scheme-and-skill combination faced in-between.
What is means? “We have to play our ball and not worry about our opponent,” explained Robinson. “Because we are our biggest opponent, you know? We challenge each other every day, as long as we challenge ourselves we don’t care about the competition.”
After struggling to move and score at Alabama, and for that matter not being nearly as efficient as hoped in wins over Kentucky and Arkansas, the Bulldog offense looked much better last week. Not that Vanderbilt is too tough a defensive test to be sure, but State’s execution was crisp and play-calling sharp again…much like it looked in that mid-season tear with wins over LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn.
Robinson won’t entirely agree with comments that the offense looks to be back on track. “Oh, I never saw us getting off,” he counters. “But at the same time we’ve still got to play Mississippi State ball. As long as we play Mississippi State ball, we’ll be fine!”
Life is fine for Josh Robinson these days. While is ebullient personality can, and has, gotten him in some warm coaching water at times, Bulldog fans just love their Bowling Ball on and off the field. Robinson returns the love entirely. No one would guess he wasn’t born ‘n bred Mississippi, as a New York media member discovered when asking Robinson what it means to be ‘StarkVegas’.
“You’ve got to have a cowbell for one! Because we have a fever right? And the only prescription is more cowbell! No, it’s a laid-back town, and got good soul food.” Epitomized to J-Rob by local legend Little Dooey’s, though he admitted his girlfriend prefers dining at the chain outlets.
Otherwise, “It’s just like my home town, very laid-back and country setting. You can’t get in too much trouble here unless you’re looking for it.” Not like Las Vegas, suggests the visiting writer? “Can’t go Sex And The City!” Robinson quipped, which had the long-suffering Media Relations staff cringing. Again.
Fortunately, for all his off-field clowning Robinson has proven he’s all Bulldog business on the field. It just adds incentive to fan hopes that Mississippi State comes out on top again to ponder what J-Rob will say with success, especially now that he’s rested and ready to roll.
“It just gives you a little show to watch Saturday!”