That was Dixon, and those careless words—along with some shaky running decisions a week earlier at South Carolina—had found himself demoted to second team and barred from media access until further notice. It came Saturday afternoon as the sophomore played turned in some exceptionally hard, and smart, running to carry the Bulldogs.
"I had a little bit of motivation," Dixon admitted. "When Coach told me I wasn't playing up to my potential I didn't want to believe him. But I looked at tapes and kind of saw what he said, I wasn't running as hard as I could. I was really motivated, I knew (Christian) Ducre was going to start but I was going to do what he asked me to do."
Which was do the job expected, Coach Sylvester Croom said. "That's the way he should run all the time. Anthony Dixon is a big-time player when he's doing things the right way. And he did it the right way today." As in, keeping the pads down and feet chopping high, and pounding and pounding and pounding until a feisty Blazer defense could handle no more contact with the 240-pound bruiser-back. Or an offensive front that got their own game in-gear after intermission.
"I told our line, you guys are the heart-and-soul of this team," Croom said. "You have to knock them off the ball and we're going to take the big fella and roll up the field. If we don't we're going to get beat, it's going to be a bad Homecoming, and we'll be the laughing-stock of the whole country."
Fortunately the last laughs came from the winning Home-coming-boys. "We had to come out and play our game and do what we're capable of doing, and play our ball," said tackle Mike Brown, who spear-headed Dixon's first touchdown on 4th-and-goal. "That's what we did."
That score was delivered on a near-flawless 75-yard drive to open the second half, which took over nine minutes of third-quarter clock for 17 snaps. Of those, 14 were on the ground including a key nine-yard burst by Ducre and a keeper where quarterback Wesley Carroll lost his helmet but got four yards. He also completed all his three throws.
But this surge was powered by Dixon's ten blasts between the tackles. "Coach told me I was going out first and I knew it was my job to go out and move the ball down the field." His only non-gainer was on third-and-goal at the one-yard line, and there was no doubt he'd get another chance. This time behind fullback Eric Hoskins' block he spun off left tackle and on the goal line at 5:46. "I kind of figured I was going to get in there, I sensed it," he said. Hoskins had a sense of something, too, as he cleared out the safety. "I just kept my feet driving so he (Dixon) wouldn't fall down on top of me!"
But it wasn't a tie yet when for the first time in his career Carroll missed a PAT. "Ridiculous," fumed Croom. And after UAB quarterback Sam Hunt struck on throws of 34 and 30 yards the Blazers made State's missed kick hurt more as Jackson native Swayze Waters converted a 29-yard field goal for a 13-9 margin at 2:24. Yet the Dogs were actually a bit encouraged now, especially a defense that was well-rested by now. "It was big holding them to a field goal," O'Neal said. "I think that was a turn-around in the game."
Not immediately, as the Blazers were still leading into the fourth quarter when State got the ball on their own twenty-yard line. The Bulldogs were able to essentially reprise their opening drive of the previous period, though, going 80 yards in 11 snaps. Dixon broke two tackles for one first down, then Carroll found wideouts Aubrey Bell and Lance Long for gains of 19 and 14 yards to keep the chains moving. A bootleg by Carroll caught UAB napping and fullback Eric Hoskins made his first-ever college catch good for 15 yards, just inside the Blazer 10.
Dixon took care of the rest with a scoot through center, breaking the goal line at exactly 8:00. And this PAT was accurate for State's first lead, 16-13. This series even more than the third-quarter scoring drive showed Carroll at his best. "Wes does a great job of managing the offense and getting us in the right things," Croom said. "But today he came up in the second half and made some big throws."
Carroll had started the game, yielded to re-activated veteran Mike Henig much of the second quarter, and resumed control the whole second half. "I think I did well. I think the guys believed me, letting them know I wasn't afraid of putting it on my shoulders and leading the team. Everybody was behind me." With good results as Carroll completed nine of the dozen passes thrown for 93 yards with no interceptions. Or, fumbles, the first no-turnover game of State's season.
Staked to a lead the Dog defense roused itself and got their only three-and-punt series of the second half. "We struggled in the first half a little but we came out more focused the second half," LB Gabe O'Neal said. "Just play the next play and make them snap it again." The suddenly-anxious Blazers hurt themselves with consecutive false starts, too, and Hunt missed all three throws. Getting the ball back, Carroll did what UAB knew he would and still couldn't prevent by handing to Dixon for steady gains. Though, the young passer did make a tough third-down flip to tight end Eric Butler for 15 yards that seemed to take all the heart from the Blazers. If getting pounded by Dixon hadn't already, he said.
"They stopped talking, stopped coming after us after plays," Carroll said. "You could just sense they were dying, we needed to put the nail in the coffin that last drive. And make the statement we were for-real." Dixon's twelve-yard scamper round the left end and into the end zone at 2:03 certainly did that. Just to make sure, though, 14 board-seconds later cornerback Anthony Johnson had picked Hunt at the 30-yard line and run all the way in for the final margin of victory. It was State's fourth defensive touchdown of the year, all coming in Bulldog victories.
"We only played one half of football," said Croom. "We didn't get much done the first half at all, but we came out the second half and played our kind of football and won the ball game."
By a much larger margin than the first half foreshadowed. It was a kicker's game most of the opening periods with UAB's Waters and MSU's Blake McAdams matching punts for field position. First Carroll, then Henig—still rusty after breaking a hand at Auburn on September 15—couldn't get the offense going. Croom changed quarterbacks in the first period based on midweek work where Henig out-threw the rookie in drills. "He threw the ball better in practice than before he got hurt," the coach said. But Henig also took some hard shots.
And, threw a pair of intercepted passes. The first was as he took hits from two sides, right to Zach Britten at the Blazer 45-yard line. An interference call on corner Marcus Washington got enough ground for Waters to hit a 42-yard field goal at 14:08. Henig's next interception was also forced and picked by Kevin Sanders at State's 43. The Dog defense stopped them at the 13-yard line and Waters tried a 29-yard attempt. This time DT Kyle Love came right through for a block…just as scouting showed should be possible.
"We were looking for something to get it going," Love said. "Last week South Carolina did with that block. Once we pushed them back four yards I knew we had a chance." Washington came up with the carom and if not for a yank on the shirt-collar would have gone the distance. As it was he stepped on the sideline at UAB's 45, and after a 18-yard burst by Dixon—his only real gain of the first half—Adam Carlson missed a 44-yard field goal. But UAB was off-sides and given another chance five-yards closer Carlson tied the score at 10:02.
Not for long, though. After Hunt twice worked the middle-deep to convert third downs the Blazers had 3rd-and-9 from the 31-yard line. Hunt again had time and Forrest slid into the, yes, deep-middle ahead of anyone for a catch at the five and stride into the end zone. The 10-3 lead held at halftime, as State mustered just two first downs and 50 net yards.
"It was a dog-fight," Brown said. "I give them credit, they played real hard and were doing a lot of slanting and getting us out of our blocking." But the Bulldogs had more fight left in them, if it could be unleashed. "There wasn't really any panic," Carroll said. "We knew what mistakes were made and we knew what we were going to be able to do in the second half. All we needed was to execute and play Mississippi State football. We played hard, we executed, and put points on the board."
More than enough to win, though the Blazers still managed to have a slight edge on the stat sheet with 288 yards to State's 284. UAB had more big plays in the air as Hunt was 16-of-35 for 217 yards and one score. Rashaud Slaughter worked for 43 rushing yards and former Bulldog Brandon Thornton 34 more. "They made some great plays," said O'Neal. "They have some great athletes."
But the Bulldogs came away with the victory and opportunity to celebrate Homecoming without fear of humiliation. And after his stint in the dog-house Dixon was loose to bark a bit, too…though as Croom said. "He can get in as fast as he got out! I told him he could talk but he'd better have a little more discipline in what he says."
So must the entire team as they turn attention to conference competition next week, hosting Tennessee. Croom said while the defense got some pressure on the passer there were no sacks and coverage by both corners and safeties was lacking again. Carroll has already been tabbed to start another game and while his percentages were good more big plays need to come out of the passing game. Otherwise it will be all-Dixon, all the time.
"Wes is our quarterback and Tennessee knows we're going to run the football. That's the way we're going to start the game so they better get nine up at the line of scrimmage." Not that State will shy away from running Dixon and Ducre and new-found fullback Hoskins, and even Carroll.
Almost overlooked after this win was that it put the Bulldogs two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility, with an entire half of the schedule left to play. That theme will surely occupy more media, fan, and even team attention in the days to come. But, Croom said, this Mississippi State squad can't afford to think in terms of getting two wins in the next six contests. Or in any other number than one. As in, game each week.
"I took a quick look at what's ahead," Croom said. "It ain't pretty. If you don't play it one at a time it can get ugly. It's the real deal now."