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Mississippi state safeties coach Maurice Linguist talks St. Petersburg Bowl

The 2016 Mississippi State football team will take the field one final time as the Bulldogs take on Miami of Ohio on December 26th in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Bulldog defense has had its' share of struggles this season, but the unit found a way to shut out rival Ole Miss in the second half on the way to a 55-20 blowout win. Bulldog safeties coach Maurice Linguist hopes that the team can build on that measure of success.

Heading into the final four games on the Mississippi State football schedule, the Bulldogs were 3-5 with four SEC Western Division opponents to go. State would open the final stanza with an upset win over then #8 Texas A&M and close the show with a five touchdown blowout over Ole Miss on the road in Oxford.

The five wins plus a solid Academic Progress Report score gave the Bulldogs just enough momentum to make the 80 team bowl field. 

The Bulldog defensive unit has seen better days having battled through injuries, a complete turnover of defensive coaches and both a new alignment and scheme. Despite it all, Linguist and his fellow defensive staffers have one more game to prepare for.

"I am just proud of the guys getting the amount of wins that we needed to get in order to get to a bowl game," Linguist shared. "It didn't happen in the traditional route, but we're in it. We're glad to have the extra practices and to have another couple of weeks around our guys.

"You want to be practicing this time of the year and we are. We're excited about that."

While the Bulldogs may have been the last team selected for inclusion in the bowl picture, Linguist reports that the Bulldogs make no apologies for being in St. Petersburg, Florida this week. No matter how the 'Dogs made the cut, they are preparing to get another win.

"It doesn't matter if you're playing Miami or Miami of Ohio, you want to go out and play your best football," Linguist said. "The focus is on us, The focus is on improving. The focus is on walking on the field with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder and and a bit of an edge. 

"We just want to go and compete at a high level and play our best football. As long as you are prepared to compete and play your best football, whatever happens from there you can deal with. We are definitely in the mindset of going down there and coming away with a victory."

One of the dividends of earning a bowl berth is having the 15 bowl practices that go along with the bowl preparations. Part of those sessions are tailored for younger players who have spent most of the season running the scout team game plan. The bowl practices allow those players the chance to go through varsity reps and get a leg up on spring practice.

"It's huge. We have a lot of good, young football players," Linguist said. "Jeffrey Simmons, Leo Lewis, our quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Brandon Bryant, Mark McLaurin and (the) other young football players are getting a ton of extra reps. Someone is going to walk away with 100 more reps of something from extra bowl practices. They say it takes 10,000 reps to master something. Well, we're 100 reps closer.

"It's good that we're getting these practices and even better that we're taking advantage of them. The energy has been high and the guys are enjoying them. It's like a new dose of energy into our team.

"You'll probably see the development and we should be ahead of schedule in the spring. Then you can carry that into the summer and into fall camp. You have a chance to get ahead of the curve."

In addition to the on the field reps that go along with Bowl Season, the Bulldogs are riding high having gone on the road to Oxford and recaptured the Golden Egg from arch-rival Ole Miss. The blowout win over the Rebels paved the way to South Florida and brought a new wave of positive emotion into the Leo Seal Jr. Football complex.

"You know, football is a lot like life," Linguist said. "It's how do you persevere? How do you battle? How do you keep pressing forward when there is not a lot of reasons to? 

"Outside of this building, there probably weren't a lot of people that thought we could go and beat Texas A&M and then battle and hang in there and come away with a huge win against TSUN. The guys did it. It's a credit to the kids and the kids believing in themselves and believing in the coaches."

The Bulldogs had their backs against the wall the second half of the season with little margin for error. Somehow, someway, Mississippi State simply found a way to put themselves in a position to earn a school record seventh consecutive bowl trip.

"Sometimes you're scratching your head and it gets a little frustrating, because you're not getting the results that you want," Linguist said. "Then, boom you knock off the #4 team in the nation. Then you battle and you beat your arch-rival and now you're going to a bowl game.

"We have an opportunity to notch another win and get more practices. We have a chance to build the confidence and development that we need for the younger players. I think it's a credit to everybody in the building, but the kids have to play and they have to do it. They came away with a huge win when we needed it the most. It's time to get ready for the next one and get ready to go win another football game."

With the Golden Egg secured, the Mississippi State players and coaches returned to Starkville where hundreds of Bulldog fans awaited their arrival. For a first timer like Linguist, the reception drove home to fact that the battle for the Golden Egg is more than just another football game.

"The one thing you remember the most are the people who hang in there when you're down a little bit," Linguist said. "I heard someone say once don't love me when I am gone, love me when I am here. You appreciate people who can hang in there with you.

"We have some loyal fans and some people that really bleed Maroon. I appreciate all of them for hanging in there with these boys, these coaches and I am glad that we could reward them with the kind of victory that we rewarded them with. 

"We have been able to travel with that (Golden Egg) a little bit on the recruiting trail. Everybody that sees it, lights up. You can just so how much joy and pride poured out of people's eyes and poured out of their heart. I am glad we could give that to them."

Mississippi State (5-7) will take on Miami of Ohio (6-6) on December 26th in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Bulldogs are currently a two touchdown favorite over the Red Hawks who enter the game having won six in a row.

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