SEC's top 2 rushers set to collide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)No. 3 Alabama's Mark Ingram is earning the attention of the Heisman Trophy crowd, while Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon is putting up similar numbers with a fraction of the hoopla.
The Southeastern Conference's two top runners have been plowing through opposing defenses this season. Saturday night, they'll share the spotlight and the field, with the Crimson Tide pushing for the national title and the Bulldogs hoping to make a bowl game.
Dixon is looking forward to the matchup - if not facing the nation's No. 2 run defense.
"It's going to be fun," he said. "I guess this is what we dreamed about when we were kids. He's in the Heisman race and all props to him. I'm pretty sure he's been over there working hard. I've been over here working hard. Both of us are making the dream come true, and it's just going to be a showcase Saturday. We'll show again what we can do. I'm just excited, pumped up and ready to go."
It might be the one chance for Dixon and the Bulldogs to grab the attention away from Ingram and the Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0).
The two backs aren't far apart statistically. Ingram ranks sixth nationally, averaging 128 yards a game and 6.6 yards a carry with eight touchdowns in nine games. Dixon is gaining 125 yards a game with nine TDs and a 5.5-yard average in eight games for the Bulldogs (4-5, 2-3). He's the nation's No. 8 rusher.
"They're both outstanding players," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Anthony Dixon is a big strong downhill runner who has had a fantastic year this year and has certainly been difficult for us to get on the ground when we've played them in the past.
"Mark has had a wonderful year and been a great competitor and warrior for us. He makes a lot of tough yards and makes them miss a little bit and has a little bit of power. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both players."
Both teams have dominant running games and inconsistent passing attacks.
Dixon appears poised to face a bigger challenge. Alabama's defense has yielded a league-best 68 yards a game and four touchdowns on the ground.
The Tide just faced a similar back in LSU's 233-pound Charles Scott, who had 83 yards before getting injured in the third quarter. Now comes the 235-pound Dixon, who rushed for a school-record 252 yards against Kentucky two weeks ago and has had an open date to recuperate.
Stopping Dixon is "always a hard task," Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain said.
"You've got to go and wrap him up," McClain said. "You've got to wrap him up and wait for everyone else to come."
Added nose guard Terrence Cody: "They put their mind to running the ball, and they try and run the ball at you as many times as they can. They are real physical up front and have some tough running backs."
Dixon already has come up with a strategy - avoid the 354-pound Cody.
"We've definitely got to work around him, because he looks like he's just not moving unless you put three on him, and we're definitely not going to do that," Dixon said. "I try to watch the plays he's in and see where he goes, because whichever way he goes it's going to be his way."
He was held to 51 yards on 15 carries against top-ranked Florida and the league's No. 2 run defense
Ingram, meanwhile, faces a Mississippi State defense that is ninth in the league against the run, allowing 147 yards on average and 15 running TDs.
Ingram racked up 144 yards against LSU, his fourth time going over 140 yards in the past five games. Bulldogs defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said Ingram doesn't need his line to open up big holes to squeeze through.
"He's got a knack for hitting a little crease that really isn't there until he makes it there," Torbush said.