Dixon Gets Back On The Fast Track

Sitting out the opening game of his senior season was rough on RB Anthony Dixon's heart. But safe to say he's has responded just as Coach Dan Mullen hoped, both off and on the field. Dixon has met every obligation imposed as part of his pre- and early-season suspension, and since reactivation he's fulfilled the more public role of lead Dog in the Mississippi State gameplan.

Just, Dixon says, as he intended coming into this final college campaign. "I thought about it (the senior year) all the time. Because it is, you know, and I definitely want to go out with a bang. I'm not going to say it's gone fast because I've enjoyed every minute, every hour I've been up here. But I've put in my time, put in my work, and I'm ready to go out with a bang."

He is off to a loud start in that aspect. In two SEC contests, against defenses that know to focus on #24, ‘Boobie' has still muscled for 215 yards on a 5.2 per-tote average. His 107.5 game rate would rank him third in the SEC this week, except that debut suspension means he doesn't meet the minimum participation level. Regardless, Dixon is on a fast September track and literally rumbling on up the school rushing record list. Saturday night at Nashville he posted the tenth 100-yard game of his Mississippi State tenure, with 123 yards, and that left him just shy of second place in career rushing.

Dixon needs two more yards to catch Walter Packer (2,820, 1973-76) for that status; and the record of 3,212 by Jerious Norwood (2002-05) isn't too much farther away. Of course he already owns marks perhaps more meaningful, having scored the most touchdowns (rushing and total both) of any Bulldog ever. He's gotten in the end zone 35 times so far and has a couple more months to increase his record.

"It feels good, it's a great accomplishment. When I first got here I set out to be the best, that was one of the things I just sat down and said to myself. If I'm going to go up there and do this thing I want to be the best at it. It just feels good to know that I'm moving that way.

"But," Dixon added, "at the same time I definitely want to do my job to get this win; if that requires me to break the record then that's what's up, what I want to do. But I definitely want to get this victory."

Dixon indeed wants to come out of this home weekend victorious, because his previous three shots at LSU have not gone well. Either for the Bulldogs, or himself. In fact, Dixon has exactly 100 rushing yards in those three games (20, 29, and 51) on 36 carries with a single touchdown, scored last season at Baton Rouge. Tiger defenses have obviously been able to keep the big Dog mostly muzzled, and Dixon understands very well how gaining ground on a LSU team requires not just his talents but attention to all details.

"I know my pad level is going to have to be lower this week, I know I'm going to have to see my holes a little bit faster. I know them dudes are going to be all pumped-up. So I know everything is going to be a little bit more better this week, I'm going to have to be really on my A-game and be on it fast."

Then again Dixon has hit his senior year running, with 92 yards at Auburn. Had not State fallen behind so far, he would have certainly gotten enough last-half carries to break 100 yards. Vanderbilt did manage to slow him for a while, until the fourth quarter when A.D. burst for 40 yards to get the game-clinching drive going fast-forward. It came on the 19th carry of his evening; Dixon would also convert a crucial fourth-down in the series that set up QB Tyson Lee's touchdown dash.

Literally, because the Commodore defense came right at #24 and vacated the middle so Lee could scoot untouched 20 yards. Dixon? He was touched, alright, going down hard on a helmet-to-helmet shot that left him woozy for a while. "It's better," Dixon reported today. "Sunday night it was still ringing, but today I'm back to the same old me!"

In every way, that is. Mullen says having not been around A.D. before he wasn't certain what he had in this record-setting senior. "But we expect a lot out of Anthony. He's done a nice job. He's a really hard practice player, that's really evident when you go to a game and see how hard he plays; that's because he practices that hard." Though, Mullen adds, he isn't taking his leading runner as a fully-finished product just yet.

"He could probably give us more than he has," notes the coach, though Mullen quickly qualifies that with the depth in the Bulldog backfield even Dixon has to give up a few turns. Yet even this is a positive. "Last game that paid off with how fresh Anthony was in the fourth quarter."

Still Dixon agrees with the boss that he does have more to give. "Me and Coach talked about my last couple of games, I had a couple of mess-ups in the beginning of the game. So I'm going to try to delete that this week and start off right on the money, right on my assignments."

An interesting aspect to State's new ‘spread' offensive system is that for all the off-season hoopla Dixon certainly seems to be lining up in the same sorts of spots as before. For that matter, his biggest gainers at Vanderbilt came out of the same old ‘I' set. But it just reminds that while labels change the fundamentals of gaining ground remain the same for any system. It's all about getting the best guy the ball and letting him run.

"I think I'm still doing what I always did," says Dixon. "Just setting the tone, dropping down the hammer, trying to get the game started and closing it in the fourth. I don't think my role has changed at all." Perhaps not the role; but Dixon's approach to it, now that appears to have adapted, along with an improved physique. Dixon, long a target for semi-jests about his fluctuating poundage, came into the last season a toned-and-honed 235…and he's held it there. He even claims improved stamina as a result.

"It's allowed me to get those two, three extra plays that I didn't have last year," Dixon muses. Besides, "I might just be out there straining a little bit more. Because every year I've been here I've picked up a little bit, I get smarter and get the flow of the game and know how it's going to go. And a lot of them are leaning towards me to be the tone-setter, to get the thing started off. It's no doubt in my mind when I get out on the field that I've got to be the one, get this team rolling. I go out there with all that on my heart and my mind and give it 110."

Dixon certainly has done that on every handoff or pitch play. He's yet to catch a forward pass though, and that was something Mullen and coordinator Les Koenning spent much of spring and August practicing. Not just with Dixon, of course, as Christian Ducre and Arnil Stallworth are quite capable catchers in their own right. But four times Dixon has slipped free for touchdown receptions in his career, and the spread thrives on backs who can turn a short throw into a long gain by beating one supporting defender. Dixon fits that bill to a T…or a I, or a spread, or wishbone, or whatever the set.

And yes, he knows he has yet to be targeted for a toss this year. "I'm still waiting to catch some passes, to show off that part of my game," he grins. "But I think that's really going to help the team if we do get involved in the passing game. I think that will help us get to the victory, and I think we're game-ready. Some of those guys are still kind of young and don't just get it right off the bat. But I think me, Ducre, and Stallworth are among the most ready players the team. So I think that's going to be a plus, us getting involved."

Not that there are many aspects of State's emotional system that Dixon isn't involved with. Whether one sees it as being a team leader or just the class clown, this is the Dog usually looked to for some sort of spark. Whether it is his locker-room hollering of, well, whatever, or helping baptize the head coach after the first SEC victory, Dixon is always in the middle of any impromptu madness.

"Man, it just comes from deep within. I love this game, and I want our guys to be on the same page I'm on. I just let it flow, I don't ever know what I'm going to say, the first thing that comes to mind I let it flow!" And come Saturday morning, Boobie Dixon intends to get this home game flowing in the right Bulldog direction.

"Because I know we've got to have a fast start on these dudes, they'll try to embarrass us and that's a thing I'm trying not to let happen since this is my senior year."

BRUNCH WITH THE BULLDOGS: This weekend's game will also get an early start, with a 11:21 am kickoff for the SEC Network telecast. It's long been a tenet of conference mythology that morning games don't suit Louisiana State mindsets. Nor will the fact that this was designated months ago as a ‘white out' date for State fans set well with guests as the visiting team is supposed to don their disdained purple road game garb.

The SEC has released next week's broadcast schedule, and Mississippi State drew an evening kickoff for the inter-conference contest with Georgia Tech. Kickoff at Scott Field is 6:30 with telecast by CSS. State's game at Middle Tennessee two weeks later is also a CSS telecast, at 3:00.

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