About all that is left to run for are a couple of season records. Dixon needs 126 yards this weekend to surpass James Johnson's 1998 standard of 1,383 (though J.J. had 13 games to get there and Dixon will only have 11 chances). And he is tied with Johnson and Wayne Jones (1973) for season 100-yard games with seven so far this year. The season rushing touchdown mark of 16 by greatest Dog ever Jackie Parker in 1953 is likely out of reach as Dixon has just 11 such scores this year; though he did get 14 as a sophomore.
Dixon also can upgrade his already-strong standing in the Southeastern Conference's record book as well. As of now he is 9th in league career rushing and needs 68 yards to surpass Emmitt Smith's 3,928. He is in a three-way tie for 7th in rushing touchdowns with Shaun Alexander and Darren McFadden; and even in career scores with Bo Jackson. And only Herschel Walker and Dalton Hilliard have rushed a football more often in SEC history.
BEING BOOBIE ONE MORE TIME: But enough numbers. The only digits Dixon cares to see this weekend are more points on Mississippi State's side of the Scott Field scoreboard…and a 2-2 career record against the Rebels.
"They're up on us," Dixon said. "They're up on me as far as my career so I'm going to try to even it up and go out on a good note."
Dixon has had an erratic rivalry here. As a freshman he rushed for 125 yards with a touchdown in Oxford but was on the losing side. A year later he was kept in check with 26 yards on 11 carries, but Dixon also caught a touchdown pass to trigger State's comeback victory. And last November was the worst day of all as the Bulldogs fell behind so far, so fast that their best offensive player only got ten touches (eight runs, two receptions) for all of 20 yards in a blowout loss.
So Boobie has balancing some books in mind this last go-round with the Rebs. "We definitely want our revenge," he said. "But it's going to be another dog-fight." Not to mention his last such fight as a Bulldog. "It's a meeting we won't forget after the fact, years down the line. It's special to us and I'm just pumped up and ready for another."
Even football folk not familiar with the rivalry aspect, who giggle at the idea of a ‘Golden Egg' trophy, can be pumped-up for the matchup of State's Dixon against Ole Miss runner/receiver and sometime thrower Dexter McCluster. This week the two rank 5th and 7th respectively in SEC all-purpose gains, but if the stats are similar the styles very different. Dixon is the prototypical pounder with opportunistic speed; McCluster a classic scooter rarely taking direct hits.
"It's always fun to go blow-for-blow," agreed Dixon about the matchup. "I definitely want to be the best back when I walk off the field. It's going to be competition and that's what I love, it's going to be good to have him over there." And better to keep him on the other sideline, of course. Regardless Dixon does acknowledge he can't get caught up in a stat-for-stat contest. "I'm not going to worry about him. I can't stop him, I don't play defense! I'm pretty sure Chaney and the rest of the guys will be up for that!"
But then Boobie has never hesitated to pour more fuel on any fire, whether it is an off-season workout or a preseason practice. ‘Low key' is simply not his style, and it is a safe assumption Dixon will come up with…well, with something special to say in the last locker room minutes Saturday morning. And as always it will be impromptu.
"I haven't thought about what I'm going to say to them yet, because I want it to be good! But we'll try to make it as motivational as we can." The obvious risk would seem to be Dixon getting a little too wound-up with the complementary pressures of his last Egg Bowl and his last college game period. Not to worry, he said.
"I'm always full of emotions so it won't change, I'm emotional every game because I just love it and I get another opportunity to play. And with it being Ole Miss and my last one it's probably going to add a little bit more to it. But I'm going to try to keep my composure and go out with a bang, just focus on playing football."
"It's going to be the most intense game that we play in. Coach Mullen is stressing that and us team captains are going to be stressing that to the other players, that we got to pick it up. Because there's going to be some dudes out there throwing knock-out blows, both teams are going to get hit pretty tough. We just have to be ready to respond."
And who knows? Maybe this week, at last this season, Anthony Dixon will get the chance to do something he's wanted to try for a very long time. To wit, throw a pass. He has lined up in a direct-snap set a few times this season, such as at Kentucky, but has yet to turn ‘quarterback' for a play as he showed in the spring game. (Ironically, he did play single-back for two snaps as a freshman in the '06 Egg Bowl.) Could that be in the playbook for his final appearance in the Bulldog backfield?
"I don't know, we haven't put together the whole gameplan yet," he said with a full-Boobie grin. "I'll definitely tell Coach he might as well let me throw a bomb or something!"
SENIORITY: Mississippi State lists fifteen seniors who will be recognized in pre-game. They are WR Tay Bowser, DL Charles Burns, LB Jamar Chaney, RB Anthony Dixon, RB Christian Ducre, WR Andrew Ellard, OG Craig Jenkins, QB Tyson Lee, DT Kyle Love, WR Brandon McRae, ST Reggie Odom, OT Chris Spencer, RB Arnil Stallworth, CB/S Marcus Washington, TE Austin Wilbanks.
All have earned the regard of their head coach; their second head coach that is, which is why Mullen is so proud of the 2009 senior class. "It's difficult for seniors with one year left in football to take a different approach," he said. Yet this group were able to do so, and if not everyone enjoyed the sort of upperclassman season hoped they did do a big Dogs' job in getting the program re-established for future generations to benefit. Most of all, Mullen said, by the daily effort demonstrated during events beyond their control.
"Their attention they bring to practice and competitiveness they bring every single day. Obviously the senior class bought into what we wanted to do."
STANDING TALLER: This includes the senior who had the most at stake from a regime change. QB Tyson Lee handled the transition from pro-style to spread offense as well as senior circumstances allowed, though he is first to say he could have been much more efficient in the new scheme. For the year Lee has a ratio of four touchdowns against 13 interceptions, after throwing seven scores with five picks as a junior.
The irony is that in two distinct systems Lee has completed practically the identical percentage of passes; 58.8% last year, 59.0% so far this year. And, that those are also the best two such years ever for a Bulldog quarterback by a sizable margin. Was Lee aware of his record accuracy?
"I had no idea!" he said when asked. "I guess I find out from y'all! But stats are not that big of a deal. Going into this week it is all about how we can play and get the W. If stats can do that, as long as we get the win it's OK."
Lee could easily add, and certainly would if asked, that he isn't worried which quarterback takes snaps and throws passes this last week as long as the Bulldogs score the more points. The quarterback plans remain very much unknown for the Egg Bowl based on events at Arkansas, when after rotating-in during the second quarter Chris Relf ran the offense the whole last half. Relf produced the day's best drive, an all-running series to open the third period for 94 yards and a touchdown. But the soph was no more effective throwing the ball than Lee had been in the first half.
Mullen has said the quarterback practices will run the same this week as any other all season, and Lee agreed. Sunday's session was no different in how snaps were rotated, he said. "So we'll see how it goes. Tuesday is when we really start implementing the gameplan, what it is we want to do, if its new or old stuff, and try to get things ready. So after Tuesday we'll have an idea."
For his part Lee already has a good idea how his post-college career will play out. An education major, Lee looks to get into coaching football at the high school level first and ultimately transition into a principle's position. It will keep him close to the game he's loved since youth ball, and to have absorbed the sort of criticism that comes with the quarterback job for as long as Lee has and still care about the sport speaks volumes.
Lee will also find it hard to step away from a University that might have only been his official home two years but has been an influence in the entire life of a Columbus native. He says he'll miss everything and everyone…yes, including the already-legendary strength coach Matt Balis, though Lee has to make a quick ‘check' at the line so to speak before continuing.
"Coach Balis is one of those people you can't help but love. It's a funny thing but I'll miss him...but I won't!"
The first-year labors of Mullen and Balis to get this program turned in a more successful direction come to a conclusion this weekend. But the coaches will still be here in 2010 and beyond. For Lee and his upperclass-mates though this is it, the end of the Bulldog trail. The total wins haven't come, yet many MSU frustrations can be eased with a happy end to this year-one. And goodness knows Lee wants more than anything to walk off Scott Field the last time with a win to celebrate. Especially this one.
"I imagine we'll play with a chip on our shoulder," he said. A plank really, given how much emphasis Lee's one-year coach has put on ending the debut season well.
"That's what he's talked about all year. When we play the team up north, a big rivalry game, no matter what the record is it's a big game for us and we approach it differently as a team, as a coaching staff. And I guess just as a University as a whole. As long as you prepare, and do the best you can, the results Saturday will take care of itself."