"It really means a lot to me to be in this position, and to be honored for a day like this. Because so many people have lost their lives and this is a tribute to them, too."
Meanwhile Bailey is preparing for this weekend, where as State's starting right defensive end he will be matched-up against Alabama left tackle Andre Smith whom Coach Sylvester Croom regards as perhaps the best at his position in this league. Giving up almost 90 pounds and two inches to the offensive lineman, Bailey will have to utilize all his veteran's experience and tenacity—from where ever he earned it—to keep the Tide ground game from rolling through the left side consistently as they did at LSU.
"Big Andre, he's a good one I must admit," Bailey said. He did not go against Smith last season, playing as the backup left d-end, but has taken some tips from graduated DE Avery Hannibal who tangled with the Tider in State's 17-12 win last November. "Avery had his work cut out that game," Bailey said. "I just have to play with low pad level and play with lean, and just keep playing. The main thing is keep playing through the hard times." Which are likely to come against the SEC's top rushing attack, admittedly.
"We've got to go back to the basics," Bailey said. "First and foremost we've got to stop the run, get them in third down situations, and make plays to get off the field. The main thing is keep our composure and play the next play and don't worry about what happened the play before."
A TAG TEAM?: While the Dog defensive front will certainly have their collective hands full, the real battle of heavyweights comes when Mississippi State's offensive line is asked to muscle aside the big fellow in the middle of Alabama's three-down set. As it, junior nose guard Terrence Cody, a strapping 365-pounder for whom ‘filling a gap' is as simple as taking a stance.
"You're not going to have a problem finding him!" quipped Croom, who as a college center took on some big people himself…but none of Cody's size. The only way to handle this assignment is get leverage, get off the ball quick… "And hopefully get some help," Croom said. "It's going to be a long night for whoever has to block him."
Normally that ‘whoever' would be J. C. Brignone. And indeed, the third-year sophomore from Pass Christian will be getting re-acquainted early and often with Cody, who played at nearby Gulf Coast Community College. "It will be a challenge to us, and it's a challenge I've been looking forward to all year after hearing about big Terrance Cody," Brignone said. "I watched him at Gulf Coast and to play a guy like that will really show you how good you are…or how bad you are!"
Or possibly how green one is. Because last week Mississippi State line coach J.B. Grimes shuffled his front for practice purposes, moving nine-game starting center Brignone to left guard—where he played backup in 2007—and inserting second-year frosh D.J. Looney at #1 center. Brignone isn't sure if this means an actual lineup change or if this is another interior-position rotation. Craig Jenkins starts at right guard but has gotten a lot of snaps at left guard relieving Anthony Strauder, while Mike Gates comes in at RG. For this week Gates is listed as the second left guard, too.
"I think they want to get D.J. more snaps. And I think they're just trying to light a fire and get something going," Brignone said, in light of disappointing o-line work the last few weeks.
"I think D.J.'s fine. He's taking everything pretty well. With (RG) Craig Jenkins and I next to him I think he'll be fine. It's a big responsibility to be center but we're there to help him."
Croom is also counting on Brignone's and Looney's experience in another arena to aid them this week. Both were the top-rated prep wrestlers in their respective states. "And I like guys who can wrestle at center, because they've gone up against guys bigger than them and their mindset is going into a one-on-one battle." Or, maybe two-on-one when necessary, as an interior tag-team of sorts. Singly or doubly, the key is still how low can these Dogs go.
"It's mostly leverage," Brignone said. "We're going to try to get under him. Me and D.J. aren't the tallest guys on the line but I think we're going to be able to handle our way as much as we can and do our best."
Brignone came to State with three Mississippi prep championships in the 275-pound class, and after Hurricane Katrina forced a temporary relocation to Georgia he had a 45-match win streak going before returning to St. Stanislaus. "And I won a state powerlifting championship there." Yet Brignone recalls one unique encounter with someone who's size, relatively speaking, compared to his upcoming match with Cody.
"When I went to nationals my junior year I faced the biggest 14-year-old I'd ever seen! That was the first loss I had in two years." And Brignone learned that the bigger they are, the harder it is to make them fall…but that I can still be done, somehow.
"So I have to bring something out of my bag of tricks."
TOP DOGS: Croom announced this week's game captains at Monday's practice. FB Arnil Stallworth will represent the offense, DE Tim Bailey the defense, and S Zach Smith the special squads. Captains are typically picked based on the most recent game's results, but in these cases the entire 2008 body of work has won praise. "They've played extremely well and have given outstanding leadership all year long," Croom said.
It isn't entirely a coincidence either that two of these captains hail from that side of the state line. Smith is an Altoona native, and Stallworth hails from Mobile. "It feels great," Stallworth said. "I just called my Dad and told him and he was excited about it. I was excited when Coach Croom told me." But, will it be so exciting Saturday night when all the home-state boys give Stallworth, Smith, and the other ten Alabama natives playing for MSU some ‘special' treatment on the field?
"It definitely does make me feel like I've got a bulls-eye on me, being from Alabama," said Stallworth. "But I'm just glad. I know a lot of their players, I played in the (Mississippi-Alabama) All Star game with three of them and I played against Julio Jones my senior year."