Coordinators understand MSU challenge

The Rebels enter the Egg Bowl with an 8-3 record and on a three-game win streak. Mississippi State comes into the game at 4-7, having lost their last two and with no hopes of a bowl game. The Ole Miss coordinators say throw all that out the window - it's a rivalry game and records don't count.

On paper, the Egg Bowl looks like a Rebel win.

One team, the Rebels, going one way, the other, the Bulldogs, going the other.

The Ole Miss Rebels (8-3, 4-3) are going to a bowl, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-7, 2-5) are going back to the drawing board at the end of the regular season.

The Rebs have won three straight, the Bulldogs have lost their last two outings.

Simple, right?

Not according to the Rebel honchos - Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix and Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin.

"It's there (Starkville), Mississippi State is a better team than they were last year and I'm sure they are looking for revenge from last year," said Nix. "Throw all the other stuff out the window - this is a rivalry game, where records don't matter."

There's a bit of coach speak in those words, but Nix believes them.

"I've been a part of a lot of rivalry games and emotions and pride play a huge part in the outcome," Tyrone continued. "We will have to bring our best, no doubt about it."

Even though Mississippi State's offense has not been setting the woods on fire, they do have enough weapons to give Nix pause, especially RB Anthony Dixon, one of the best in the SEC.

"Anthony is the strongest back we have seen this year. He's explosive, he can make the right cuts, he has good hands, he can catch a pass out of the backfield. He may be the most complete back we have seen this year," said Nix. "This year, he looks lighter on his feet and more explosive. He's running confidently. He's playing as well as anyone in the league right now."

There might be a tendency to place too much emphasis on Dixon, however, something Nix wants to guard against.

"We know there are 10 other guys out there who can play. Our kids understand that and the importance of stopping the run. They have other backs who have carried the ball and have made explosive plays. We are aware of that," Nix explained. "We will try to stop the run first, whoever is carrying the ball.

"We also realize they have good wideouts. If you watch their highlights, they get past a lot of people. They got behind Alabama's secondary two or three times. They have guys who can run."

Nix is also complimentary of the offense the Bulldogs are running. He faced it first-hand last year when Bulldog Head Coach Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator at Florida.

"They do a real good job of putting their players in a position to make plays. They run multiple sets and they have the same philosophy Coach Mullen had at Florida, he's just using his personnel differently because his personnel at Mississippi State is different," Nix noted. "I don't think Florida had a back like Dixon."

Tyrone understands both team have high incentive for this matchup.

"In games like these, there's a lot of pride and emotions involved, but you also have to keep your head, execute and play solid football," Nix closed. "We have to keep doing the things that got us to where we are and not let the rest get in our way."

Austin has the same concerns as Nix, but from a different perspective.

There will be an interesting match between coaches when the Rebs have the ball. Austin was a quarterback at Ole Miss when now Mississippi State DC Carl Torbush was the DC at Ole Miss under Billy Brewer.

"They play hard and run to the football. They will come up and hit you. It's a defense that is very active. They are not going to lay down in any way, on any play and in any fashion," Austin said. "Coach Torbush is a great man. His defense will be very well prepared. He's extremely smart and his players play hard for him.

"When he was at Ole Miss, players played hard for him and you can see evidence of that on film with State's defense. You can tell that on film. They believe in him."

Specifically, Kent singled out a few of the State defenders as players to watch and account for.

"Mississippi State's defense has made a lot of big plays. They have a couple of young safeties who I am really impressed with, DE Pernell McPhee and LB Jamar Chaney in their front seven are excellent players. They have talent and they use it well," Austin stated. "McPhee is a really good talent. We will have to control him to give ourselves a chance."

McPhee will be matched against Ole Miss LT Bradley Sowell most of the day. Earlier in the year those marquee battles did not go well for Sowell, but in the last two games, the Rebel sophomore has held his own, particularly against LSU's Rshim Alem, who was not much of a factor for the Tigers versus Brad.

"We've known all along Bradley was capable, but he has had to learn to be more consistent with his techniques against the better players he has faced," Kent assessed. "He's worked extremely hard and he cares. I'm proud of that. (OL) Coach (Mike) Markuson has brought him along well. The biggest part of the battle is caring enough to improve and Bradley cares."

Of late, the infusion of Bobby Massie into the starting lineup at right tackle by shifting senior John Jerry to starting left guard has been a benefit to the Rebel OL. Also, putting Dexter McCluster and Brandon Bolden in the backfield at the same time has opened up some new avenues.

"The move up front has just made us more physical. We've got bigger bodies in there now and it's worked," Austin said. "Using Brandon and Dexter in certain personnel groupings has allowed us to do a myriad of stuff that will hopefully keep our opponents off balance more.

"We will continue to develop those different personnel groupings. I think putting Brandon in there at fullback some has also kept FB Andy Hartmann fresh. He's been playing really well all year."

Last, but not least, has been the improved play of QB Jevan Snead in the last few games.

"Jevan was under a microscope earlier in the year. The thing I like about him is that he took a lot of negative comments but he never complained, he never offered a single excuse and he took all the hits by never pointing fingers," Kent said. "He just went back to work and stayed focused on how to get better in the environment he is in. As long as he does that, he will improve, because we know he has talent.

"I had some concerns earlier in the year on how he would handle the adversity, but he's a pretty grounded young man who took it all in stride. He's had struggles, but he's learned from them and that's what is important and what is relevant. He has learned to handle the outside distractions and how to expend his energy on getting better."

Austin said some of Jevan's improvement can also be attributed to the players around him doing a better job.

"He had to do better himself, but he had to have the people around him do a better job too, in obvious areas," Austin closed. "It's not tennis. It takes 11. When the players around Jevan played better, by proxy he did too because it is a team sport.

"Jevan has graded very well in both his physical execution and his decision-making the past few weeks. He's been consistently over 90% in both areas the last three weeks and I think most can see that in his performance and in the performance of the offense."

Austin said that blanket improvement by the offense has to continue against MSU.

"We will have to be very focused. We understand the environment we will be in and the rivalry aspects of the game," Austin closed. "We have to remain sharp."


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