November 27, 2009 8:41:00 AM
Danny P Smith -
Coaches often use the phrase "you can''t stop him, you can only hope to contain him" when discussing a talented player from an opposing team.
Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen feels that way about University of Mississippi running back Dexter McCluster.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has the same measure of respect for MSU running back Anthony Dixon.
Dixon and McCluster will be on the same field at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) when Mississippi State (4-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) and Ole Miss (8-3, 4-3) battle for the Golden Egg trophy at Davis Wade Stadium. It will be the 106th meeting between the schools.
As finalists for the Cellular South Conerly Trophy, Dixon and McCluster are two of the best players in Mississippi. They are also two of the best in the SEC and the nation.
Dixon, who is known for his power and vision, is MSU''s all-time leading rusher with 3,861 yards, which ranks eighth in Southeastern Conference history. This season, he is second in the SEC and sixth nationally with 1,258 yards rushing.
Nutt calls Dixon "a difference-maker," and said it''s important to know where he is at all times.
"They do a good job of utilizing a 240-pound guy like Dixon and he''ll be a very good professional player," Nutt said. "They are finding different ways to get him the ball with different schemes, counters, and zones. They do a very good job with that."
McCluster, who uses his speed and quickness for his success, is sixth in the SEC in rushing with 903 yards. With three runs of 50-plus yards this season, he has a knack for breaking the big play.
"He''s a home-run threat from anywhere on the field," MSU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. "We have to do a good job of taking care of our assignments and being in position on every play."
McCluster has averaged 184.8 yards rushing and 238.3 all-purpose yards with seven touchdowns in the last four SEC games. Nutt said the presence of McCluster makes the players around him better.
"When you''re a threat to run, the linebacker and a safety have to keep an eye on (McCluster)," Nutt said. "It just helps everything. He''s what your quarterback needs and our linemen don''t have to hold their blocks as long."
McCluster was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a school-record 282 yards on 25 carries in a 42-17 victory against the University of Tennessee. He followed that up with a 148-yard rushing day against LSU in a 25-23 win last week.
Dixon likes McCluster''s style.
"He''s real fast and shifty," Dixon said. "He''s got a nice game."
He hopes linebacker Jamar Chaney and the rest of his defensive teammates will do their part in stopping McCluster.
"It''s always fun to go blow-for-blow," Dixon said. "Whatever he does, I''m going to try and match it. I want to be the best back when I walk off the field. It''s going to be about competition and that''s what I love. I''m going to go out there and do what I can for my team."
Dixon set a school-record with 252 yards rushing in MSU''s 31-24 victory against Kentucky on Oct. 31. He also was chosen the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his effort.
Dixon has seven 100-yard rushing games this season, and 16 for his career.
The Bulldogs won''t be going to a bowl game, so Mullen knows the importance of winning the Egg Bowl to his program.
"This is the defining game of our season," Mullen said.
Dixon knows there won''t be much need for motivational speeches for this game.
"It''s a big game for the Mississippi boys," Dixon said. "We know players on their side and they know us. It''s going to be a meeting we''re not going to forget and will be talking about it after the fact years down the line. It''s special for us."