Sitting at 3-3 coming off the midway point of the season, Mississippi State enters Thursday night’s game with Kentucky with fair bit to play for against the Wildcats.
The last several years, two games have been critical to MSU’s season: Auburn early in the season as a tone-setter, and Kentucky later in the season as the Bulldogs set themselves up for the postseason.
Dan Mullen talked about the importance of this contest against their permanent-crossover opponent, saying the potential for a great season is on the table as the second half of the year starts, a six-game stretch beginning Thursday night.
In Mullen’s first year, he found his team facing a significantly bigger climb, playing at Kentucky with a 3-5 record, only three games left in his inaugural campaign after the trip and hopes of bowl eligibility dwindling.
Out of that game came not only a win for Mullen and MSU, but one of the premier moments not just of Mullen’s career, but of the last decade in Bulldog football.
After running the ball 33 times for 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns, senior running back Anthony Dixon was interviewed live on the field as soon as the game ended, an exchange no one in Maroon and White will soon, or perhaps ever, forget.
“I’m a senior and I want to go out with a bang, I promise I do, man,” Dixon told the female reporter.
He wanted a bowl game in his last year.
Back in Mississippi, the newest running back on the team, LaDarius Perkins, was in his redshirt year watching on TV as the leader of his group spoke.
Even now, five years later, Dixon’s words offer inspiration to those who came after him.
“I’m just grindin’ for my team, you know, for my state. I’m just doing what I can,” Dixon told the reporter that cold night. “We just kept fighting, you know? It was getting tough, but we just kept fighting.”
That mentality, one of fighting and not giving up, is what Perkins wants his team to take on as the second half of the season begins, following a first half with a tide pool of varying emotions from week-to-week and even quarter-to-quarter.
“That really changed the way things were going,” Perkins said of that 2009 game and Dixon’s ensuing interview. “I think about that a lot when we play Kentucky. It’s pretty big to me. That’s the main thing is just grindin’, desperate for a win.
“He inspired us with the ‘grinding for my state.’”
And so Perkins and MSU enter this game hoping for similar results in the short term – an MSU win over Kentucky. But their potential remains greater than that of Dixon’s 2009 team, though the floor is even lower if the Bulldogs don’t respond properly.
The charge to MSU came in Dixon’s incidentally-prophetic speech so many years back when he said his team kept fighting and fighting, no matter what came against them, on the field or off.
Afterward, Dixon knew what the win meant, and he knows what it would mean now for the 2013 team.
“It’s a big confidence booster going into these last few games,” he continued in front of the camera that night. “We need, what, two more wins for a bowl game? And that’s really where I wanna be. It’s like I’ve been telling people, I had the most fun of my life at those bowl games, being down there with the boys, just chillin’, man. That’s fun, fun, fun. We’re just trying to get there.”
So, Perkins, Mullen and the entire MSU team enter Thursday night, hosting Kentucky with a world of season-potential on the line, Dixon’s words echoing over the years, still offering motivation and inspiration to those who play on the same field he once did.
“Boobie,” Perkins started with a smile when asked about the interview, “he had a great game. Over 200 yards. It means a good bit to us.”