Mississippi State Still Looking To Improve

FAYETTEVILLE -- Mississippi State's youth movement definitely is having its share of growing pains.

For that very reason, Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom knows his team has to take baby steps to get better.

That might explain a lot of things, things like a 2-7 overall record, including a 0-6 mark in the Southeastern Conference.

Things like having a struggling offense. Things like being inconsistent. Things like losing its last six games.

"We have so much room for improvement because we are playing so many young players," Croom said. "Everyday we go out and try and focus and get better.

"We hope we can make more improvements."

Starting this weekend when the Bulldogs meet Arkansas at 1 p.m. Saturday in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

And boy is there is a lot of room for improvement.

That's obviously the case, especially on offense, where the Bulldogs are dead last in the SEC in passing efficiency (96.9 yards per game), scoring offense (12.0) and total offense (271.8).

Croom said he hopes a change at quarterback is the answer. At least it might be a good place to start.

Omarr Conner is out. Mike Henig is in.

Conner has started eight games this season. Conner, a junior, is 86 of 167 with 5 interceptions. He's thrown for 903 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Henig, a redshirt freshman, hasn't started a game this season.

So, why the switch?

"He's done some things well," Croom said. "He made some plays. I feel like he has a chance to make some big plays. He understands the offense.

"He's still got a lot of learning. He's consistently making progress so consistency is probably the reason we are making the change more than anything else."

Henig, who is 33 of 88 passing with 3 interceptions for 439 yards and no touchdowns, got the majority of the reps last week.

"Mike Henig will be our quarterback Saturday," Croom said. "He did a lot of positive things during our bye week last week."

Croom said the offense is the one area that needs the most repair. However, injuries to the offensive line, has played a major role in the lackluster numbers.

Really, the only legitimate offensive weapon has been senior running back Jerious Norwood.

Norwood, a 6-foot, 202 pounder has rushed for 841 yards and 3 touchdowns, and is averages 93.4 yards a game. Last year, he rushed for 1,100 yards and scored 7 touchdowns.

"He's done a good job considering we've been so banged up in the offensive line," Croom said. "Got to give him credit for that."

Defensively, the prized pupil is 6-3, 259-pound senior defensive end Willie Evans.

Evans leads the SEC in sacks (11.5) and tackles for losses (81 yards and 1.72 per game). In nine games, he's recorded 47 tackles.

Croom praised his team for not throwing in the proverbial towel despite its pitiful record.

"To be honest with you, I don't think we have fallen back," Croom said. "We may be record-wise but I see constant improvement. The biggest disappointment is that we lost a couple of guys in the offensive line. We didn't anticipate things like that, but we know that's always a possibility.

"A lot of things have happened that are beyond our control.

"The pleasing thing is all of our freshmen are going to be good players in the future. That's what we are looking forward to seeing down the road.

"It's frustrating but I see progress. Everyday is a learning experience.

"We are just so, so young."

Croom said his team spent the majority of last week basically trying to get healthy for its game against Arkansas.

"We worked a lot on fundamentals last week more than anything else," Croom said. "That, and getting some guys healthy. We had a lot of guys nicked up. Everybody was pretty beat up after the Alabama game ('Bama won that game 17-0 on Nov. 5). That was a very physical game.

"Everybody is healthy and ready to go now."

Croom said that's a good thing since he knows Arkansas will be playing with a little more confidence after last weekend.

Last Saturday, the Razorbacks won their first SEC game, beating Ole Miss 28-17 on the road.

"Arkansas is well coached and they can play a full 60 minutes," Croom said. "It'll be a difficult task because Arkansas is a good football team. We have a lot of respect for Arkansas.

"They've really improved defensively. I think they are playing with more confidence on defense and that has a lot to do with it. They give you a lot of looks and they play people everywhere."

"They'll come after you."

All Mississippi State can do is hope it continues to improve. If that happens, things could be brighter in the future.

"No, I don't think we are down just because of our record," Croom said. "Yes, there's room for improvement since we have a lot of young kids. But we see improvement each week.

"That's our goal."

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