Wednesday Bulldog Football Notebook

EXTRA DUTIES: Coach Sylvester Croom and DE Tim Bailey will be pulling double-duties Wednesday, as part of Mississippi State's second annual ‘Leadership Summit' event. The keynote speaker is retired Gen. Colin Powell, and Croom will be giving the formal introduction this evening.

"That makes me nervous!" said the coach, who isn't sure how best to game-plan for his turn on stage. "I hope I don't stumble around, usually I try not to think about these things until it's time.

"But it is an honor. He is one of the men I truly do admire, his philosophy of leadership, some of his quotes I give to the players all the time. I've always admired him from afar and having the chance to meet him is one of the greatest honors."

Meanwhile Bailey participated in an afternoon campus program in Colvard Union with Powell as well, not just as a Bulldog athlete but a Mississippi State student. Of course Bailey is well-known for his National Guard service, with one tour in Iraq done before he came to State and the likely chance of another when he leaves campus. The timing couldn't be better this week because, based on his efforts at Georgia Tech, Bailey will be team captain at LSU.

"I can tell you one thing," Bailey said after meeting the former five-star. "That's a powerful man. He loved talking to us, it was really informal and it made it more comfortable." And no, Bailey, said, "I didn't have to salute! I did inform him I was in the military and asked him about being a general, how to get to the point he's at. I was very, very nervous, just the anticipation for two or three hours."

Croom can't think of a better Dog to participate in a leadership program. Bailey is having a strong senior season at right defensive end, leading the team in quarterback hurries but also playing well against the rush. "And he's hurt, too," Croom said, "he's a little beat-up right now. But he practices and gives us great leadership."

Bailey was even setting a summer tone when he wasn't always on campus with the rest of the team. In June he reported for Guard training , while veteran teammates were on campus in the strength and conditioning program. "He wanted to train every day and drive back here and participate in the off-season program," Croom said. "I told him Tim, I don't think that's necessary, what they're asking you to do is more than sufficient to get you ready." Nor did the coach want Bailey on the road so much back-and-forth. "But that shows the attitude he has and the kind of sacrifice he's able to make."

BIG BACK, BIG TALK: HB Anthony Dixon doesn't have to keep track of his statistics. "My family does that," he grins. "My mother, my father, my brothers." But somehow this week an important item was overlooked by the Dixon family: that with his 91-yard day at Atlanta, Anthony had just surpassed 2,000 career rushing yards. He's only the tenth Bulldog back to do so. Told Tuesday by a reporter, "Nah, I didn't know that!" A.D. admitted. "I guess they're slipping, I'm going to have to get on them!"

But then folk have been getting on Dixon himself this week…in his own locker room. Some proud words from the past have come back to bite ever since Dixon was stopped at the Georgia Tech nine-yard line. Oh, nothing wrong with a 71-yard gainer on a simple blast through right tackle, of course. Still, "I'm very mad," Dixon said.

"I'm catching a lot of heat from people around here about me being caught! I told them I'd never be caught from behind and I guess it happened." In Dixon's defense it took two tries by Tech, with an ankle grab around the 20-yard line throwing him off-stride enough that other Yellow Jackets caught up to finish the TD-saving stop. Still he's had to eat some words this week from "the whole defense, the whole offense, everybody!" "They're looking for me to make excuses, but I'm not going to do that. I'm going to come out next game, try to burn one of these dudes up and get to the end zone, then I'm going to look at all of them and ask them what they think now?!"

If Dixon can burn LSU's proud defense it would be something worth shouting about. In two games against Tiger teams Dixon has gained 49 yards on 21 carries. While part of that is from State falling behind fast and far in 2006 and '07, Dixon has also been unable to make much happen himself. The junior is adamant this third-round will be better for him, and for State's offense. And he doesn't intend to simply match muscle at the line of scrimmage.

"Really it's just a reading game. I've got to get my eyes on my reads and catch them in bad angles, then I can get around them. If they're low go the ground, got their center-of-gravity on me, then I've got to try to run over them. But if I catch them slipping I'm going to do what it takes to get around them. Know what I'm saying? Either run around them, run through them, or jump over them, I'm going to do what it takes."

And if he succeeds, hopefully the family will get his stats and records updated faster this week.

FRONT AND CENTER: One teammate really hoping Dixon would complete that first-quarter jaunt at Tech was OC J. C. Brignone. "I thought he was going to make it, I was already heading for the bench," Brignone said.

Instead the sophomore center had to stay on the field three more snaps…and many others afterwards. In all Brignone, and three of his up-front peers, played all 80 offensive snaps in Atlanta. A couple of them got in more with their kicking-team duties, but 80 snaps is still a remarkable total for any offense…and an amazing day's work for a starting o-line that worked almost intact all afternoon. The lone exception was right guard, with starter Mike Gates hurting a hamstring in the first period and Craig Jenkins taking his place. Of course the right guards alternate anyway and Jenkins is considered a co-starter by the coaches. He will start this week at Baton Rouge.

By any measure, lining-up and firing-off four-score times in a day is quite a workload. "Royce Blackledge told me ‘wait until you get in that game you think will never end'," Brignone said. "But Coach (J.B.) Grimes did the right thing. Don't get me wrong, we were tired! But we were playing well there at the end." And being around for the end meant the regular line had at least some small satisfaction from State's touchdown.

Getting anyone into the end zone will be at least as tall a task this weekend. For the third week in a row State's offensive line is facing a top-flight defensive front. And it's no slight to Auburn or Tech to say LSU looks to be the best of a rough bunch. Brignone got a taste of it last year as a backup guard; now he'll be right in the middle of the action.

"Oh, they're always stacked. LSU always got some of the best d-linemen in the country, we'll be seeing most of these guys playing on Sunday. They're big, fast, everything you look for. So we've just got to buckle down and make sure we step right." As in, keep the technical details foremost against defenders glad to match muscle-on-muscle.

"I've got two big fast guys on the first squad in the middle," Brignone said. "And the backups have a big old boy, 350-360 pounds. So we'll probably have to bring a little more pop against them." Make that a lot more pop. Not that Brignone is anxious about the challenge; this is what he signed-on for as a SEC lineman. And in certain sets he will get help from one of the veteran guards. "So it'll be a little easier for me! But as long as we get our steps right we'll be looking at the same picture."

The St. Stanislaus High alumnus is also looking forward to meeting an old friend, Tiger tight end and Mississippi coast native Richard Dickson from Ocean Springs. "We played against each other in high school and we're real good friends. It'll be good to see him."

BY THE NUMBERS: S Keith Fitzhugh spent another day in limited-status purple, after leaving Atlanta with a concussion. The senior was back to practicing with the first team, though; as were S Derek Pegues (ankle bruise) and MLB Dominic Douglas (Achilles). And OG Mike Gates (hamstring) was upgraded to limited-yellow after two days in a red-cross shirt.

Wearing the purple shirt, Fitzhugh hasn't born his #1 in drills this week. But Tuesday, somebody did, as WR Brandon McRae had a big ‘1' on his maroon shirt. The junior might have done so somewhat legitimately as he is this week the SEC's leading catch-per-game receiver. But he confessed that he changed numbers Tuesday just to annoy the defense. Today he was back in #6.

Fitzhugh is still miffed, though, that an offensive player dared put on his digit for even a day. And asked if McRae was too tall to wear 1 anyway, the safety snorted "No, too ugly."


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