Sometimes? The senior running back often takes more blows from his teammate than in a whole quarter of carries. Not that Boobie is complaining. "He's a fired-up dude, he gets me fired up before the game!" Dixon said, adding "sometimes he gets me dazed with all the head-butts, I have to tell him to calm down!"
Good luck with that. The juniors walk-on, a transfer from Alabama a year ago, is not someone who settles down easily. This excitable boy from Springville, Ala., thrives on the emotions of playing college football and has to let it show. It's merely his preferred method to butt heads with a teammate instead of the more typical whooping and hollering.
"It's just something I do to mess around my teammates and stuff," Hanrahan said. "Before the game we get excited, and I don't know, I just end up grabbing people and butting them with my head on their helmet." Note, Hanrahan said THEIR helmet. Because his own pate is uncovered, for that matter practically bare with a mostly-shaven scalp. "Nope, I don't have my helmet on, I just head-butt." For the record the skin is unscarred…so far.
Dixon, no shy-and-retiring sort himself, is more practical about such things. "Yeah, I definitely have my helmet on before I see him." That includes after everyone comes to the sidelines following a successful drive, too, where at times Dixon—Dixon!—has to tell Hanrahan to calm down, not right now. "But that's my boy, me and him have got close in the year we've been together. And he's a really good teammate, he's a guy who would definitely walk in the alley with you. Because he's one of those pumped-up guys, full of energy, he loves to play the game. He reminds me of myself…he just likes to head-butt a little bit!"
Then again, a fullback's regular job demands sticking the skull (protected in this case) into defensive traffic almost every play, so Hanrahan is comfortable with such stuff. And his special teams work speaks for itself, particularly as the reckless rusher on punt block crashing into protection. Or, if it ain't there, coming through to block the kick and kicker alike as he did in the Auburn game, leading to a recovery/return touchdown for Robert Elliot. This former Alabama squadman—he left a year after the coaching transition brought an offense that didn't require much fullbacking—really enjoyed that play and will get chances for more of the same this season.
In fact the only concern is that Hanrahan's particularly style of pre-game preparation could do damage to a cohort. It's a risk worth taking. "I try to get my teammates excited and ready to go. They all think I'm crazy, but it ends up being pretty good!" As has Hanrahan's move to Mississippi State, which recruited him out of high school. Though MSU ironically also changed coaches and offenses after his arrival, this regime still sees the worth of a hard-hitting, hard-playing, hard-headed blocking back.
"It's a blessing. Coach Mullen, ever since I've been here, he's always given me the opportunity to prove myself and I'm trying to advantage of it. So it's worked out really well."
GETTING A GRIP: It isn't as if they were unaware of the issue. Still, all Bulldogs who had a hand—or more to the point lack thereof one—in turning the ball over these past two games were reminded forcefully that fumbling has assumed the status of a deadly Dog sin. Even those who don't handle the hogskin heard the same message from Coach Dan Mullen Monday prior to practices.
"Everybody got chewed-out today," reported Dixon, who himself lost the handle twice in the loss to Georgia Tech including a fumble at the one-yard line. That was one of five fumbles, four lost, in this game; coming a week after State lost one of two fumbles against LSU. Add to this four intercepted State passes and the Dogs' turnover ratio is sinking faster than Chrysler sales figures. No wonder the Bulldog coaching staff is investing precious practice time in something as fundamental as ball protection.
As Mullen forecast Sunday, the first session of this practice week saw the return of serious strip-drills. "He had all the scouts, and all the scout coaches, trying to strip us," said Dixon. "So we had to go back to the basics: high and tight, eagle-claw, do all the little things to get us on the right track. It was a little bit more than usual." And fortunately for all involved, especially some strained coaching vocal-cords, the ball was protected successfully. Otherwise…
"You'd get pretty chewed-out, know what I'm saying? If somebody lost it today they were going to get chewed-out."
Turnovers have unfortunately been something to shout about too often of late. Three of Georgia Tech's touchdowns came after Bulldog fumbles, one directly as Dixon's first drop was returned 40 yards for a second-quarter score. LSU's first touchdown was on a returned interception, something Auburn also did to the Dogs. Whereas, State has yet to convert a fumble or pick into instant points since the Jackson State game.
Dixon's two fumbles were very much out of character, because he had not lost the handle since the 2007 Egg Bowl; a stretch of 15 games without turning it over for the senior. As painful as the turnover-touchdown was, the fumble at Tech's one-yard line hurt him even worse. Ironically that was not one of the turnovers that Tech ultimately turned into points, which diminished the personal damage not a bit to Dixon.
But it and other examples serve to remind him and team what such carelessness has cost this season. "Because we really believe that's what is holding us back," Dixon said. "We feel we've been beating everybody, feel like we've been winning the games as far as the battle you know, but we've been losing the war because we've been doing stupid things and giving it away. So we're looking to keep what is ours and bring it back home."
RECORD RUN: Meanwhile Dixon keeps racking up the records. He wasn't able to add to his career-touchdown marks (33 rushing, 37 total) last weekend, but his 105-yard output gave him the 12th ‘century' rushing game in four seasons. That ties Dixon for second place with Walter Packer and James Johnson for 100-yarders. One more such game and Dixon ties Jerious Norwood's program-record.
But the real target all season has been Norwood's standard of 3,212 career rushing yards. Dixon began just over 600 yards short; in four games he's pulled within 182 yards, as only the second Dog back to tote for more than 3,000 yards. Obviously that mark won't last out the month.
For that matter it would take just one heroic afternoon for Dixon to become the all-time Bulldog ground-pounder. A 182-effort would seem within reach since he busted off 179 last year against Arkansas. And, he is about to match up with a Houston squad that has shown some vulnerability against committed rushing attacks. But Dixon's mindset for the moment isn't about his own stats but on putting State's best offensive foot (feet?) forward.
"It's just going to be up to us to grind the clock, we're working on that. All four, five running backs have to attack them as a group. So it's going to be grind it out and however much carries Coach gives us we're going to do with that. And just keep that high-powered offense they've got off the field. That's our mission this week. Coach has been talking about playing great defense; we've got to play great offense and run the ball."
NOTE: With fall break today, Tuesday's practice began at 1:45 and was due to finish at 4:00. This report will be updated with any items coming out of today's practice.
INJURY UPDATE: PK Sean Brauchle was held out Tuesday as he rehabs the upper-leg muscle strained during the LSU game. He has yet to kick since the injury. "We've got to see, it's day to day with him," Mullen said. "He's rehabbing right now, but with his mentality it's not going to take much. As soon as he gets the green light he'll be good to go."
Walk-on Derek DePasquale took over the placekicking and kickoff duties for Brauchle, hitting a 31-yard field goal along with all three PATs. "Derek did a great job in the game," Mullen said. "And it wasn't a huge difference between the two to start with."
First RT Addison Lawrence left Monday's practice wearing a protective boot on the right foot, but was able to practice normally Tuesday. But first DT Charles Burns still wears the extended wrap from ankle-to-thigh after a knee injury early in the Georgia Tech game. Starting CB Damein Anderson practiced today with a wrap on his right thigh/groin. OG Tobias Smith continues his return from an August ankle injury. He played in the Tech game at right guard in the second and fourth quarters. Smith still practices with a combination of ankle brace and heavy tape as the ankle swells following every session.
FS Zach Smith did not practice Tuesday, for personal reasons according to football media relations rep Joe Galbraith.