November 24, 2009 7:34:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State junior center J.C. Brignone and the offensive line have something to prove Saturday against the University of Mississippi.
Brignone believes the Bulldogs are much better up front this year than the unit that allowed 11 sacks in a 45-0 loss to the Rebels last season.
"That was awful," Brignone said. "Having (those sacks) in the Ole Miss game is even worse to think about. We want to come back and show them what we really are."
MSU (4-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) will get that opportunity when it plays host to Ole Miss (11:21 a.m., WCBI). Coach Dan Mullen has already noticed how much the game means to his players.
If there''s any question, all Mullen has to do is listen to players like Brignone.
"It''s big for me," Brignone said. "I don''t like nothing about what they are or who they are."
Mullen, who last season was an assistant coach to Urban Meyer at the University of Florida, doesn''t anticipate mentioning the Bulldogs'' loss to the Rebels last season. Instead, he plans to focus on the rivalry.
One way Mullen has done that is by putting a clock in the locker room that tracks the time until kickoff for the Battle for the Golden Egg.
"It will start over on Sunday, reset itself, and count down to next year''s game," Mullen said at his Monday.
Mullen said the intensity was high at practice Sunday and expects more of the same when the team returns to the field today.
"When you are a part of these games, you feel that (emotion) at this school," Mullen said. "This is THE rivalry game. I''ve talked to a lot of people and a lot of State fans who have been a big part of this program for years and years. This is the one game we''ve always talked about."
Throw in the fact that it''s Thanksgiving, Mullen understands this isn''t just another week.
With no school Wednesday or Thursday, Mullen plans to practice earlier those days.
"The mind-set changes," Mullen said. "You change your whole approach and how you prepare with our practice schedule and weightlifting routine. When you get to a rivalry game, you want to make sure this week is different than the other weeks."
Brignone, a dad soon?
Brignone and his wife, Blair, are expecting a daughter possibly even before this weekend''s game kicks off.
The due date was Dec. 7, but Brignone doesn''t expect it to take that long.
"It''s anytime," Brignone said. "It could be right now."
Brignone tries not to think about it too much and tries to focus as much as possible on preparing for the game. He said his wife feels the same way.
"She''s more into football than I am sometimes," Brignone said.
Brignone said his wife plans to be at the Egg Bowl "no matter what."
So what if Blair goes into labor right before or during the game?
"If it happens, it happens," Brignone said. "Hopefully someone will come get me and tell me what''s going on."
Brignone said it''s a comfort to know that most of his family will be in town for the Thanksgiving holiday and will be able to help if needed.
The 15 seniors who will suit up for their last game for MSU are a special group to Mullen.
Mullen singled out Anthony Dixon and Jamar Chaney as those who "put trust in our coaching staff" and tried to make his first season successful.
"The senior class really bought in to what we were trying to do," Mullen said. "It''s difficult for a senior class to have a new coaching staff with a lot of changes and only one year left of football to take advantage of things."
Careful with Cooper
The training staff has taken the cautious approach with MSU junior right defensive end Brandon Cooper, who has an injured back.
Mullen said Cooper could have played Saturday against the University of Arkansas, but they decided not to push it.
"It was one of those cases where he might have been able to help us Saturday," Mullen said. "If he had, there would have been a good chance he wouldn''t have played this week. We chose the path of him not playing so he could be 100 percent for this week."
Senior running back Christian Ducre'' hasn''t played since injuring his knee against Kentucky on Oct. 31, but Mullen says he has been well enough to run at practice.
"It''s really been day to day with him," Mullen said. "Our trainers believe there''s a good chance he could play, but it''s really just how he feels. We need to get him in a position where he feels comfortable to play."
Scouting Ole Miss
Mullen said experience makes the Rebels (8-3, 4-3 SEC) so dangerous.
"They have 28 seniors," Mullen said. "They have played in a bunch of big games before. They had some NFL talent out there last year, and it looks like they have some NFL talent again this year."
Mullen credited former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron for bringing in players like Dexter McCluster, Shay Hodge, Marshay Green, and others.
"Coach Orgeron did a good job of recruiting," Mullen said. "That''s what he does, and he does that everywhere he''s been."