It took four seasons, with more frustrations than celebrations. But now with a winning year on the record coach Sylvester Croom isn't relaxing. Not when his fifth Bulldog ballclub has the personnel and potential to build on 2007's success.
"We've still got a lot of getting-better to do," Croom says. "But if we keep working like we are we've got a chance to be pretty good."
For this low-key coach to say Mississippi State can be "pretty good" speaks volumes. The Bulldogs often were pretty good in an 8-5 (4-4 SEC) season with a Liberty Bowl championship. What Croom wants now is just plain good play every weekend. And in another noteworthy change, 2008 talk starts…on offense. Yes, the 113th-ranked unit of '07 projects real progress.
Forced into starting duty at mid-year, freshman Wesley Carroll won games by not losing them. Now "We're looking for Wes to step up his role as a playmaker, particularly in the passing game," Croom said.
"We're capable of throwing the ball up the field more," Croom said. "We know we can run the football."
Halfback Anthony Dixon certainly does pound the ground. Activating redshirts Robert Elliot and Wade Bonner should balance power with explosive speed, and run-throw quarterbacks Chris Relf and Tyson Lee offer new options to this package. And despite losses to graduation and dismissal, Croom believes revamped blocking will be as capable and maybe more consistent.
Dixon is a 6-0, 240-pound bruiser at tailback.
The defense has a baseball theme: strong up the middle. Tackles Jessie Bowman, Kyle Love, and LaMarcus Williams share the two interior line spots, backed by middle LB Jamar Chaney. But the pass-rush talents of Titus Brown are gone and these ends are better run-stoppers. So outside ‘backers Dominic Douglas and K.J. Wright will put their speed to use in other ways.
They can gamble with safeties Derek Pegues, Keith Fitzhugh, and De'Mon Glanton back in support. Marcus Washington was a spring standout at right cornerback, and Jasper O'Quinn is reliable on the left side while redshirt Damein Anderson works into the mix. Two years of quality recruiting means defensive depth, as well as faster bodies on kick coverage.
"Each year we've improved our speed," Croom said. "Our veteran players are practicing well. We're ahead of the game on defense right now."
Improving on a breakthrough season isn't automatic. But as the offense starts hitting a few home runs and the defense finds new pass-rushers, these Bulldogs can be pretty good. Or just plain good.