By the same token it's been a slow start to his junior year with just three rushing touchdowns to-date, two of them against Southeastern Louisiana. And while Dixon is the team rushing leader at 320 yards he has yet to break 100 in a game. So when Dixon was told of his coach's comment that State would ‘ride him' in the Vanderbilt game, he just grinned.
"Oh, man! It's what I'm ready for, I've been waiting for! Everybody that knows me, knows that I've been waiting for. And when they give it to me I'm going to put it to use Saturday."
Dixon has been handed the ball 71 times so far, just over 14 times per-game. This must be kept in context of a groin problem that hampered Dixon in the Auburn game when he made just five yards on seven runs. And a week later he was still just a half-step slowed, which meant Dixon got caught at the nine-yard line by Georgia Tech pursuit on what looked like a 80-yard touchdown dash. Now he's healthy and ready to get a lot more chances…as many as the staff thinks he can handle. In fact Coach Sylvester Croom has said Dixon isn't coming out this week until he asks to.
So, when will he ask to? "I guess when I get tired! I'm going to know when I get tired, I'm going to ask to come out. But when I get my breather I'm coming right back in, you know what I'm saying? Ducre and Wade are my backups, they're ready, and once I feel I can't give it my all I'm going to come out and let them get their reps." Veteran Christian Ducre and redshirt Wade Bonner, who has yet to get his first college carry, are the current rotation now that Robert Elliot is done for the year with a knee injury at LSU.
The loss of Elliot, a quicker runner, is one reason Dixon is booked for more totes this week. But the real emphasis is that State wants to truly establish a ground game at last this season. Dixon is all for that, of course. "I believe we can run the ball against anybody. When we line up I don't think they're going to just be able to stop us, if our offensive line comes out and is hitting on their keys and I'm reading mine I believe we'll have a good day. We'll run the ball, that's what we do.
"It's big, because that's our identity. I believe that's what we need to be done. The coach makes all the decisions but I believe once we load them up no matter how many on the front they've got down there I still think we can run it."
PICKY, PICKY: S Derek Pegues entered the season with 10 career interceptions. It took five games to get the first pick of his senior season, so when he snared a second-quarter throw at LSU there was just as much relief as thrill at finally forcing a turnover.
"I felt I wasn't making enough plays for the team, and I was glad to get the interception," Pegues said. This pick moved him into a tie for 3rd-most interceptions at State, with Henry Davison (1974-77) and Kenny Johnson (1976-79). Not a bad career tally by any measure…but Pegues isn't content. Not so much that he wants to add to individual stats, he stresses. "But I've got to make a lot more plays, we're not getting the turnovers like we were last year and I believe that was a big part of us having a winning season. So we've got to get back to creating turnovers and giving our offense a better chance of scoring."
Speaking of which, Pegues for a few moments thought he might add to his MSU-record three interception return-touchdowns that night. He did make it 23 yards back with the ball.
"But I didn't pick up enough blocks, and guys were running in front of me just waiting for somebody to get me from behind. I try to take it to the house every time I get it, but that was just one of the times I wasn't able to." Pegues has garnered 241 yards on 11 returns, an average of 21.9 that is also best of anyone on the MSU career list.
Pegues intends to add to all those totals in the remaining seven games of his senior season. Through the first five contests he says State's defensive scheme didn't have him playing as much in the middle-field as he did in 2007. The type of blitz packages the Bulldogs have run this year haven't called for the same sort of safety-help that set up some of Pegues' previous picks. And something else, he notes.
"I think we've been sitting back trying not to give up the big play and come up and tackle the guys when they catch the ball instead of being more aggressive. I think this week we really have to get back to breaking on the ball and being aggressive and just taking chances. And maybe we'll start getting some of those lucky bounces."
Even some picks-for-six, maybe, against the SEC's top team in terms of turnover margin. At the same time Pegues says the defense can't run wild this particular weekend for that very reason. "They (Vanderbilt) have two good athletic quarterbacks, if the play breaks down they can tuck the ball and run and get extra yards. You have to be real disciplined, you know. If you've got a guy spying on the quarterback he has to do that, and the secondary guys stay on their man when the quarterback starts to scramble. Or he'll pull it up and throw it down the field.
"We have to read our keys and play really sound and don't have any MA's (Missed Assignments). Because if we do they have the players to burn us."
READY TO RUN (IT BACK): Of course Pegues would like to do some burning of his own this week. Such as on punt returns. He's had a few chances to make gains on such possession exchanges, with a 10-yarder at Georgia Tech and four returns for 30 net yards against SE Louisiana. But on the whole opportunities have been scarce this season because opponents just don't want to take the risk and give State's best all-around athlete a chance to do damage this way.
"They've been hanging the balls high and giving the punt team a chance to get down there and get in my face a lot," Pegues said. Even at times other teams trade some field position (Ga.Tech just netted 105 yards on three punts) in favor of coverage. It's frustrating, Pegues said, but he can't let it spur him into trying anything reckless either. As he noted in a frame-by-frame review of his game-changing return in the 2007 Egg Bowl, for an article to appear in this month's issue, punt runbacks can't be forced. They develop, or don't, and the return man has to take what is there.
"I'm not going to try to press it, I'm going to let the game come to me. And hopefully they'll boom a couple this week and I'll be able to get a good little return on them."
TOP OF THE CHARTS: He was already in the lead playing outside. But moving to middle linebacker has only increased Dominic Douglas' tackle totals this year. The senior is up to 36 total stops, including a career-best 11 in the LSU game.
Which means Douglas has put some distance between himself and the rest of the defensive pack. "They're trying to catch up with me. But I pride myself on having a good nose for the ball and I believe at the end of the day I'll be on top of it." Especially now that he is at MLB, the spot that normally finishes first in total tackles at the end of the season. Douglas knows this from the other side because last year, working the weak-side, he came in second to MLB Jamar Chaney 89 to 78.
Now after two games at WLB, Douglas has inherited Chaney's spot after his classmate suffered a season-ending ankle injury. "My closest competitor is (SLB) K.J. Wright," said Douglas. "I keep up with my competitors! Like always in the linebacker corps we go back-and-forth on who is at the top of which category and everything. He's leading me in tackles for loss."
Which points to something Douglas sacrificed with his move to the middle. At weak-side he was free, or freer, to attack the ball behind the line and chase quarterbacks. Now he has to stay put longer while Wright and Karlin Brown or Terrell Johnson—or any of the safeties—go for the more dramatic plays. Wright currently has 6.0 stops behind the line, Douglas 3.5.
"It's kind of hard to get a tackle for loss at middle linebacker," Douglas said. "But I'm not going to let that me set me back, I'm going to try to be on top of that category also. I'm going to do my best, I believe I can get it."
And practically speaking, with State struggling to make enough such plays rushing only the front three or four, the linebackers—including Douglas—may have to be given longer leashes in such situations. He'd welcome the chance to go chase a quarterback, but Douglas adds that such plays have to be picked very, very carefully…especially against a clever couple of Vanderbilt quarterbacks who have made a knack of avoiding trouble and evading sacks.
"It's all about discipline; knowing your assignment, if you have the quarterback get the quarterback, if you have the running back get the running back," he said. "Chris Nickson is a quick guy and Mackenzi Adams ain't slacking!"
INJURY UPDATE: OC J. C. Brignone bruised a knee in Tuesday's practice, when a teammate fell on the back of his leg in an inside drill. Brignone spent Wednesday in treatment and left on crutches. "Y'all didn't see this!" he said, grinning, at reporters waiting to talk to the coach after practice in the designated interview area outside Shira. "I'll be ready!"
His coach agrees. "He's a little sore on his knee, I'm expecting him to play Saturday," Croom said.
DTs Jessie Bowman and LaMarcus Williams remained in limited-purple for Wednesday's practice, both with back issues. OG Mike Gates dropped back down to limited-yellow status purely as a precaution, while TE Marcus Green (hip) did not practice with his unit today. S Zach Smith was upgraded to full-status, after being limited two days with a practice concussion last week.