MONDAY MORNING COFFEE BREAK

[Premium article] Talking MSU sports with Gene Swindoll.

Close but no cigar.

The football team went into Tuscaloosa looking to win their second game in a row and their fifth in the last six games played against Alabama, Coach Sherrill's ala mater.

Like last week against Kentucky, they got behind early and were down at the half. Just as he did in the game against Kentucky, Coach Sherrill brought in sophomore quarterback Kevin Fant late in the second quarter and allowed him to play all of the second half. In fact, Kevin was the quarterback in 9 of MSU's 13 possessions during the Alabama game.

Fant, showing take-charge ability and accurate passing, once again rallied the offense and even helped the team pull ahead 17-10 late in the third quarter. However, unlike Kentucky, which couldn't come back on the Bulldogs' defense, Alabama did just that by scoring 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 24-17 victory.

Not only was MSU led by Fant but junior running back Dontae Walker had an excellent game piling up 101 yards on 15 carries. Several times he carried Crimson Tide players with him as he bulldozed for yardage. Is that a sneak preview of what is ahead in 2002? Has he begun to become the player everybody said he would coming out of high school? Time will tell.

Once again sophomore linebacker T. J. Mawhinny performed well, making 15 tackles, the most he has recorded in his young Bulldog career. Now we fans are starting to understand what Coaches Sherrill and Dunn saw in the young linebacker and why they initially moved last year's All-American linebacker Mario Haggan to defensive end at the beginning of the season so that T. J. could start.

Who should start at QB for the Arkansas game, Fant or Madkin?

Once again, it looks like Mississippi State's coaching staff has a difficult quarterback situation on its hands. Like the Derrick Taite-Matt Wyatt and Matt Wyatt-Wayne Madkin situations of the recent past, a youngster has stepped forward to rally the MSU offense after a veteran quarterback slumped. In 1996 redshirt freshman Matt Wyatt took about 43% of the snaps behind center during Derrick Taite's senior campaign while redshirt freshman Wayne Madkin took over from Matt Wyatt in the 4th game of Wyatt's junior year (1998). Now, sophomore Kevin Fant, taking over for slumping senior QB Wayne Madkin, has played the majority of the snaps the last two games, helping lead the offense to 34 points during the 5+ quarters that he has played. It appears obvious, based on stats alone, that Fant should continue to take more and more snaps during the remaining three games that are left on MSU's schedule.

Here is the evidence to back up that statement. During the past two games, a win and a loss, MSU's offense under Fant has scored on 6 of 16 possessions (38%), while under Madkin's control they have not scored once during 12 possessions. Although many MSU fans were wondering why Madkin started the Alabama game, it is pretty obvious Coach Sherrill has noticed the effectiveness of the offense under Fant's leadership and took Madkin out early during the Alabama game. During the Kentucky game, Fant was in during 7 of the 15 possessions, while he was in for 9 of the 13 possessions during the Alabama game.

Some MSU fans believe that starting Madkin may have cost MSU the Alabama game. What is my opinion? Probably not, since MSU could only score three times during the nine possessions that Fant was in. During the four possessions that Madkin was in, MSU's offense looked ineffective early, then on his last possession drove 61 yards down to the Alabama 14-yard line before two holding penalties and a sack of the quarterback put MSU all the way back to the Alabama 39-yard line. It was obvious that the MSU's coaches found a weakness in the Alabama defense and had started to take advantage of it. In fact, on the very next MSU drive, with Kevin Fant in as QB, the Bulldogs scored their first touchdown of the game on a nice 6-play, 50-yard drive.

Although it wouldn't surprise me to see Madkin start the Arkansas game, I look for the MSU coaching staff to continue to use Fant more and more as the season winds down. They have given Wayne Madkin, a veteran quarterback who has helped lead MSU to three of its greatest years, his chance to show whether he can or can't lead this team this year. However, for whatever reason or reasons, Madkin continues to slump.

People seen at football practice last week

Former LSU head football coach Gerry D'nardo attended Tuesday's practice. No, he wasn't looking for a job. (: He was to speak at the Starkville Quarterback Club that night. Former Southern Miss head football coach/MSU defensive coordinator Jim Carmody also attended one of the practices. He now scouts for a pro football team and was looking at MSU's seniors. I also spoke to MSU freshman football player Clarence McDougal. He is going through therapy to rehab his injured knee. He said he is about 50% recovered and was to have some scar tissue removed.

Men's basketball team loses exhibition game to Birmingham Bullets

Before a crowd of 1,671, the men's basketball team lost a 86-75 decision to the Birmingham, England-based Birmingham Bullets.

I know what some of you are thinking, it's time to start thinking about MSU baseball. Let's hold off on that kind of thinking for the moment.

Exhibition games are great to win but are not so important that you have to win them. In Coach Stansbury's case, he wants to experiment during exhibition games to see who can do what. Winning is important but with so many young players, he wants to find out early who can or can't do certain things. Sophomore Mario Austin and freshman seven-foot center Marcus Campbell never played defense outside the paint during their high school careers but had to do just that against the 6-foot-8 Brant Bailey. It was probably tougher on Campbell than Austin but it was a learning experience for both. Those are the things that exhibition games are for.

And before you say we have to learn to play better much better defense or we are going to get killed defensively this season, let's take a look at how other teams have played defensively against the Bullets. During their first six games, the Bullets had made a higher percent of their shots against five of those six teams than they did against the Bulldog defense. Even Florida couldn't hold them to a lower percentage than the Bulldogs (48.0% to 46.7%). Basically, it wasn't the Bulldog defense that did them in Saturday night, it was MSU's ineffective offense. Call it a fluke or just overconfidence coming into the game, but this team will not play that badly on offense too many times this year. Nor will they face a 6-8 player as effective shooting the ball outside as the Bullets' Brant Bailey was. Even Florida couldn't stop him (Brant had 27 points against them and 26 against State).

So, before some of you jump off the bandwagon early, just remember it was only an exhibition game and didn't count in the standings. Stay on that bandwagon because it is going to be very exciting to watch talented youngsters Mario Austin (So.), Marcus Campbell (Fr.), Timmy Bowers (So.) and Winsome Frazier (Fr.) develop during this season and the next few seasons. As for the exhibition loss, just chalk it up as a learning experience for a very talented but, in key positions, a young Bulldog team.

Basketball players to sit out the first few games of the season?

Due to a ruling by the NCAA, MSU men's basketball player Roy Goffer has to sit out the first eight games of the regular season. Now, there is a chance that MSU's other foreign player, Michael Ignerski, may have to sit out three games due to the ruling.

For those of you who don't remember reading about it, the NCAA ruled that any foreign player who played on a team that either paid its players or was sponsored financially by a company was ruled to be no longer an amateur. However, they reached a compromise and ruled that a player would only have to sit out 8 games.

Roy Goffer fell under that rule and is sitting out the first regular season games. Now, Michael Ignerski, after having been cleared previously, may also fall under the ruling but will only have to sit out 3 games if he isn't cleared. The ruling is expected to be reached today.

Women's basketball looking good

With two exhibition victories under their belts, the women's basketball team has looked good. Newcomer Tan White, a high school Parade All-American who was also selected the 2001 Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year, has played well, scoring 37 points, pulling down 16 rebounds, while also recording 6 steals. Watch this youngster. How good is she? I call her the LaToya Thomas of guards. She turned down every major college in the country to sign with Mississippi State.

MSU soccer team falls in SEC tournament but has a tremendous future

The MSU women's soccer team, winners of the SEC Western Division, lost their first-round SEC tournament game to Ole Miss and will now begin preparing for next year. Look for them to be even better next year with all but one player returning. In fact, of the 23 players on the team, 18 were either freshmen or sophomores this season.

The Mississippi State soccer team's scoring tandem of Jessi Moore and Amy Van Zandt, both freshmen, earned a spot on the All-SEC squads, while head coach Neil McGuire was named SEC Coach of the Year.

On the recruiting front

The early signing day is this Wednesday. MSU men's basketball is expected to sign four players while MSU baseball should sign from five to eight players.

The four basketball players are 6-foot-9 Kei Madison and 6-foot-8 Brandon Vincent of Okaloosa-Walton CC, 6-foot-2 point guard Stephen Cowherd from Stoneman Douglas HS in Coral Springs, Florida and 6-foot-4 wing guard Sam Richardson from Hinds (MS) AHS.

Of MSU's baseball commitments, I know three are outfielders while two are middle infielders. One is a juco while four are high schoolers. Not sure about the other three possible commitments. BTW, the four high schoolers are all ranked among the top 250 players in the nation, according to Prospects Plus, a scouting service offered by Baseball America and Perfect Game, USA.

Technical help

Here is a helpful hint on sending and receiving private messages on my message board. When you are on my message board, look for a link called MY CONTROL PANEL. You can find it to the left of where it shows who you are logged on as. Click on that link. When you get to the next window, look for the EDIT PREFERENCES link. Click on that link, then look for the ACCEPT PRIVATE MESSAGES instructions on the right-hand column under OTHER OPTIONS. Click on the little square button just to the left of the instructions. That sets you up to receive messages. If you are going to send private messages to other message board users, it is necessary for you to be set up to receive them or the person you send a private message to will not know who you are or how to send a private message back to you. Don't worry, your username will not show up on the private message, just your username. I will be including a Gene's Page helpful how-to hint in each Monday Morning Coffee Break.

Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.

Have a great Bulldog week.

Gene Swindoll


Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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