By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State senior center J.C. Brignone wants to graduate as the leader of the best offensive line in school history.
The problem with the goal is he knows Saturday’s performance against Alabama isn’t going to help achieve that at all.
“We weren't there," Brignone said of the 30-10 loss to the Crimson Tide. "We weren't us and that's the one thing that really disappointed me as a senior leader.”
State offensive coaches told the media Monday, individually the lineman graded out well but as a group they didn’t mesh well and had disappointing breakdowns and penalties to slow the offense down.
"The problem is, when one guy is bad on each play, then you have severe breakdowns on the offensive line. That's what it was," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. "For the offensive line to be successful, you have to have five guys doing the right thing at all times."
Even after giving up five sacks against a Crimson Tide defense, State is third in the Southeastern Conference in sacks allowed and Saturday will face an Arkansas defensive front that has gotten to the quarterback 28 times in 10 games.
“That’s been a strong point for us all season and our offensive line didn’t play its best game – probably played our worst game of the season but we still did some things,” Mullen said. “There’s a lot of things we have to teach them as coaches with the good and the bad.”
The obvious way to guarantee no sacks against MSU junior quarterback Chris Relf – run the football over and over.
“What I love about being the coach at Mississippi State is that our fans don’t care how we win the game – our job is to score more points than the opponent in any way we can,” Bulldogs offensive coordinator Les Koenning said.
In order to control the clock and keep the high-powered Arkansas passing game off the field, Mississippi State’s 18th-best rushing game in the country must be dominant on Saturday.
“We just have to get back our physical nature, that swagger we had at the beginning of the year," Brignone said. "If all five of my guys are going, I don't think there's a defensive line that can stop us."
In last year’s loss to Arkansas in Little Rock, Mississippi State piled up 327 yards on the ground but couldn’t win an offensive shootout against the Razorbacks in a 42-21 defeat that knocked the Bulldogs out of bowl contention for the 2009 season.
“We ran the ball well during the game (but) we turned it over at critical times,” Mullen said. “It seems to be a pattern that if you turn the ball over and give up big plays – that’s not a recipe for success. That’s what we did in last year’s game.”
After an interception in the opening quarter last week and only getting 70 passing yards from Relf against an Crimson Tide defense daring them to throw the ball, fans at Davis-Wade Stadium may see MSU revert back to the Florida gameplan that included nothing but runs in the second half. However, Relf has continued to be a force in the running game as the 6-foot-4, 240-pound signal caller is just 4 yards away from becoming only the sixth quarterback in school history to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
Last season Relf was second on the team with 68 yards on the ground via 12 carries against Arkansas.
“It wouldn't make me mad if coach Mullen said, 'Hey, we're going to run the ball the whole game,' " Brignone said. "Let's just get our physical name back and just come out and play smash mouth football. That's what we do."
Zach Smith likely to play with ankle injury
Mississippi State head coach Zach Smith suffered a severely sprained ankle in the loss last weekend at Alabama but Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen said after practice Tuesday he expects the senior safety to recover for the Arkansas contest Saturday.
"He was adamant to me that he was playing this week," Mullen said. "He doesn't even think it's funny to joke about - the idea of him not playing."
State’s backup free safety and key contributor on special teams will be honored along with the other 21 seniors Saturday night in their last game at Davis-Wade Stadium.
After missing most of last season with lingering concussion issues, Smith will be on the field for his 40 games as a member of the Mississippi State squad and has started 10 of those contests. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder has 16 tackles this season and got his first sack of the 2010 season last week against Alabama.
This senior class group will be part of career span that includes over 50 games and a pair of bowl appearances.
Arkansas TE D.J. Williams recognized with off-the-field honor
Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams was recognized Monday as the winner of the Disney Spirit Award. The award is given annually by Disney Sports to “college football’s most inspirational figure.”
Williams, who has become an advocate for domestic abuse awareness, is also an All-American candidate and a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award for the nation’s best tight end after hauling in 42 catches for 491 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Williams suffered through a childhood fractured by an alcoholic, drug-addicted and abusive father and eventually broke free along with his mother, Vicky, and sister, Vanessa, who together fled their Dallas home. Another older sister, Valerie, had already moved away by that time.
“I will accept this award on behalf of my mother, my sisters and the entire Razorback family,” Williams said. “Watching my mother, who never quit, is the inspiration for me each day and a lesson for us all. My hope is the story of my family will show those who are experiencing a similar ordeal that they are not alone and there is help and a way out.”
Last year, Williams received the inaugural Razorback Spirit Award, given annually by the Arkansas athletic department to the Razorback whose performance throughout their career serves to uplift their sport to new heights and whose character exemplifies the ideals of the athletic department.
Boston College defensive end Mark Herzlich, who won the 2009 Disney Spirit Award after winning his fight with cancer and returning to the field, will serve as the award’s presenter on Dec. 9.