November 17, 2010 8:31:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- When Mississippi State center J.C. Brignone recalls the Arkansas game last season, he remembers how his offensive line won the battle up front.
The Bulldogs rushed for 327 yards on 55 carries in a 42-21 loss, which dropped MSU out of bowl contention. But that performance was one of many that established the team''s straight-ahead identity last season.
A quick look at MSU stats shows the Bulldogs are 18th in the country in rushing yards per game (211.7), a stat that suggests the Bulldogs have carried on that identity. But in games against the top quarter of the league this season, Brignone has seen the disciplined play and toughness dip.
His assessment of the offensive line''s performance last Saturday at Alabama mirrored that of losses to LSU and Auburn.
Brignone acknowledged the death of teammate Nick Bell and the swirling developments in the Cam Newton saga played into potential distractions during the team''s bye week, but insists the uncharacteristic mistakes -- five sacks and seven penalties -- were immediately addressed with the offensive line''s other senior, Derek Sherrod.
"I think that was one thing we thought we got squared away, which comes with leadership on my part and leadership on Derek''s part," Brignone said. "I talked to Derek about that after the game. We need to take it to the next level like we did when we started with Georgia.
"Just because we lose one doesn''t mean we have to keep losing."
The rally cry comes at a pivotal point in MSU''s season, where its bowl destination will be decided in the last two weeks of the regular season. Including their bowl game, the Bulldogs have a chance to finish with 10 victories if they win-out.
"That would be something special for them to leave with," head coach Dan Mullen said. "It''s not just the success of this season with this senior class, what they''ve been able to do is set a foundation for a successful program in building long-term success for us and our younger players."
Sherrod, the only member of the offensive line who played in the team''s Liberty Bowl win in ''07, said he talks to the younger players about closing this season strong. Instead of lifting his teammates and encouraging them to salvage a losing season, Sherrod is urging them to shoot higher than a national ranking.
"It''s not easy to win and become bowl eligible -- it''s a grind," Sherrod said. "And getting to a better bowl game is more of a grind. Any bowl game is a special moment, especially to a young person just stepping on campus and counting on the success of going to a bowl game. You can''t just let that be it because you can''t stop right there."
Brignone said he watched last year''s game against the Razorbacks and got excited when he saw the holes former running back Anthony Dixon had to run through. He admits the offense has expanded since the spread option was introduced last season, but the fifth-year senior welcomes a return to the direct approach.
"It wouldn''t make me mad if Coach Mullen said, ''Hey, we''re gonna run the ball the whole game,''" Brignone said. "And let''s just get our physical name back and play smash-mouth football, because that''s how we do. We hit people in the mouth. We run power, we run zone. We just have to get back our physical nature, that swagger we had at the beginning of the year."