Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

STYLE STATEMENT: When OC J.C. Brignone pulls off the helmet—hopefully only on the sideline—this Friday, don't look for the ‘mohawk' cut he sported much of this 2008 season. The scalp is fully covered here late in the year, and not for weather reasons either. "I've got a wedding to go to in December so I decided to go ahead and let it grow out!"

Before pulling on the formal wear next month Brignone has this week's season-ending duty to perform, hiking the ball in the middle of the Bulldog line. It will be his 11th start at center, the lone '08 exception being his start and full-game stint at left guard against Alabama. It wasn't anything new for Brignone, of course. "I played left guard last year so it wasn't that big of a change for me. I had to remember a lot of things." Which he did, as State blockers put in a better-than-expected effort against the Tide defensive front.

They were much better and more productive this past week though as State piled up season-high yardage against Arkansas…with Brignone back at center. Sure, he could always hold a full-time job at guard and become a pro prospect there just as easily. "But I really like playing center a lot, I believe it's my fit."

Whatever the slot, though, this week brings as stiff a test for Bulldog blocking as they've faced all season. Ole Miss features the SEC's #2 defense against the run and the #5 unit in sacking quarterbacks. Those stats verify the Rebel front's two-way prowess.

"I played against them last year and know a lot of their guys," Brignone said. "They do just a four-man front rush and do a very good job, and stopping the run." Still Mississippi State has to line up and run the ball regardless, which means lots of handoffs to Anthony Dixon. And, lots of hard hitting by the big Dogs in front of him.

Which often as not includes getting run over, from behind, by the guy they're blocking for. And that, Brignone said, holds true whether he's at guard or center. "No, he seems to hit us most of the time!" he said of Dixon. "But I'd rather him hit us, and us knock over somebody and him keep running."

TAKING CHARGE: Sunday, the permanent team captains for 2008 as voted by the Bulldog players was announced. Senior LB Dominic Douglas, junior QB Tyson Lee, and senior DE Tim Bailey (for special teams) were elected. "And they couldn't have chosen three more deserving individuals," Croom said. "I still think that's one of the greatest honors you can get as a player, to be voted captain by your teammates."

Douglas agrees with that. "It was a real blessing, a honor accepting that role. I thank all my teammates and Coach Croom for putting me in position to uphold that honor. It's something real special. It shows that your teammates are behind you and trying to push you forward to be a leader. It means a whole lot for my teammates to feel I can lead them."

One of those teammates is also Douglas' linebacker-unit cohort and his closest competitor for the team tackle lead. Soph SLB K.J. Wright didn't say who he voted for specifically, but he agreed with the elected trio because they fit his idea of what a captain should be.

"We look for qualities not only on but off the field too," Wright said. "Guys that obviously make plays on the field, and just be a leader; calling meetings, getting everybody together, making sure everything is right. Those are the positives to look for and the captains we have now fit all those qualities."

‘Permanent' captains are different from game captains in that this threesome will be listed as such in the 2008 section of the football guide. Every program sets their own schedule for choosing—before, after, or as State does late in the season. And while it might not mean much outside a locker room or coaches offices, such things matter to an old Dog like Croom.

"It's been my experience a guy may like you or not, but when it comes to that captain they're going to vote out of respect. It's always interesting to me to look at that list. I keep all of the votes on file for future reference, and it tells me a lot about how the team thinks about certain individuals. And," he added, "guys that are playing well."

LEAGUE LEADER: Douglas certainly is playing very well. This week's SEC statistics show the State senior has just taken the league lead in average tackles. Douglas, who was #2 last week, vaulted past Georgia's Ronnie Curran on the strength of his 16-stop day against Arkansas. Going into the finale he is averaging 9.1 tackles to Curran's 8.9, with a couple of Vanderbilt linebackers tied at 8.5 in third.

"Yeah, a lot of people have been calling me," Douglas said. "My Dad was probably the first person to tell me! He was real excited. Of course I tried to just downplay it, but deep down inside I'm very excited to accomplish such a thing."

The second-year senior is playing his best football at the end of his college career, with 15, 11, and 16 tackles in the three November games. He has 100 total stops this season, the first Dog to reach triple-digits since Quentin Culberson in 2005. And he's done most of this damage since moving to middle linebacker from his former starting slot at weak-side ‘backer.

Of course that move was made only because senior Jamar Chaney broke an ankle late in the season-opener. Chaney, who now intends to return for an extra year in 2009, could just as easily be the top Dog and league-leader in tackles. Not that he begrudges his partner's success, Douglas said.

"Oh, he's very proud of me. But if he was playing it would be an ongoing thing, me trying to out-do him and him trying to out-do me!" Because, after all, it was Chaney who edged out Douglas for the team tackle lead in a tight 2007 race.

BIG DOG, BIG LOAD: This week's other Bulldog award-winner was HB Anthony Dixon, as he was named the SEC's Offensive Player of the Week Monday. It didn't take the junior long to get word through un-official channels as the texts came pouring in. "Friends and family, they were excited for me. They know how hard I've been working and how frustrating it's been, and to see me get something feels kind of good."

Dixon was kind of darn good in running for 179 yards against Arkansas, with a season-best 63-yard touchdown blast in the third quarter. He also caught five balls and two of them ended up in the end zone for another pair of touchdowns. Those scores pushed the MSU career-record Dixon already owned out to 34 total touchdowns; 30 rushing, four receiving.

And, his first league POTW award. "It feels good, of course. It feels good to get at least one all year, I wish it would have come sooner. But the big thing, I've got to move on this week and get ready for Ole Miss in a short week."

Getting ready for a rival won't be too tough for the Terry, Miss., native. Dixon had a big day in Oxford as a freshman, running for 125 yards and a touchdown in 25 tough totes. He even lined up at ‘quarterback' twice that day, in place of gimpy triggerman Omarr Conner, though his one passing play was neutralized by a penalty and do-over.

His second Egg Bowl was a much tougher afternoon as Dixon managed just 26 yards on 11 rushes. But, he caught seven passes for 101 yards and scored the first touchdown in State's memorable comeback victory.

Dixon likes catching passes, but he loves good old fashioned running. So he hopes to follow up his efforts against Arkansas with a comparable output in Oxford to end his junior season. "It gave us confidence, we ran the ball good," Dixon said of the last home game. "A lot of stuff we ran was open and it gave a bunch of players confidence. A lot of stuff we ran worked and when it goes like that everybody gets confidence. All we have to do is me read my keys, everybody else read their keys, and be ready."


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