Croom Ready For First Game Week

It's finally game week for Mississippi State, for the Bulldogs, and for Coach Syvester Croom, who debuts as a college head coach this Saturday. Croom began game-one-week with a Monday media teleconference, and selected comments and answers follow.

I think we've been very fortunate in our camp that we haven't had a major injury to keep somebody from coming back. We've had some nagging injuries, especially to the offensive line, that's the worst area. We've got to be cautious with some guys, Will Rogers and Johnny Wadley, our guards have been the major problem. But I think they're going to be healthy, they'll practice today.

How good we are I'm not sure yet. We'll find out pretty fast this weekend. We're starting to make a move in learning how I want to practice and create an identity in practice. I gave them a weekend off, I thought they were getting tired last week so we'll be in shorts today and get our legs back under us. We'll be in full pads Tuesday and Wednesday and then get ready to hit somebody else.

Overall we've made a lot of progress. But I told our players when started camp we were way behind at the start of the race and we just have to run faster.

Omarr has been the quarterback throughout camp and he's had his ups and downs. Getting into this offense has been a real slow process. For all of them. We've get to narrowing down the system now. I thought our defense has been the strength, Ronald Fields has had a real good training camp. Our linebackers are improved, especially with the addition of the freshmen. How much we play the freshmen is to be determined. Gabe O'Neal will definitely play, we still have reservations about the other two.

If we don't think that, with kicking plays, they are not going to average 25-30 plays a game we're not going to play them. I probably won't even dress them because I don't want to be tempted. But once they play they've got to play.

The challenge for new quarterback Omarr Conner:
It's really understanding the discipline of the progression of each read. In our patterns there are certain ways, exactly where (the play starts) depending on the coverage the defense gives. And you have to know, if the first or second option is taken away, where do you go with the defense. You can't make up your mind prior to seeing what the defense does. That's the discipline he has to learn. In our system completing the pass takes a higher priority over hitting the first option and that's what he has to understand. The only way to do that is through repetition.

Concerns about Conner's first game at college quarterback:
Well, I know I won't get a lot of sleep Friday night! I'm sure he'll get all kinds of pressure, they'll blitz him from every way possible. I'm sure they'll disguise coverages and show a lot of things because he is an inexperienced quarterback. We'll do everything we can to help him handle it. But he's going to be tested real fast, anytime you've got a new quarterback that's standard operating procedure, you go right after him. He's going to have to use his mobility this weekend! His ability to move will probably be our saving grace.

How has Croom prepared to run a sideline:
That is a great deal of it, is anticipating. You rely on the experience of guys like Ellis Johnson and Woody McCorvey. All of us have been in those situations. I had a meeting with the coordinators and our kicking coach (Amos Jones) this morning, anticipating all the scenarios that could play out, and the decisions I will have to make.

Hey, Im' sure I'll make some mistakes. But I'll use 28 years of experience on the sidelines. I'll have people advising me just what our options are, we'll try to anticipate them before the game. I'll rely on their advice but I'll make the decision and make it quickly. And if we make a mistake, we'll go on.

Is he more concerned about Tulane, or about coaching his team for the first time:
That's a valid point. We can't worry about them very much, particularly in the first game. I've never been one to worry about the other taem much because we can't do much about it. We try to take careof our team and concentrate on what we're doing on offense, defense, and in the kicking game. You can't be totally prepared because you never know what can happen. ut you hope your system can handle anything that comes up.

We will practice the fronts and blitzes that Tulane presents defensively, the specific patterns and runs they do. There are concerns on both sides of the ball, defensively they do bring some pressure. The biggest thing is (last year) they created a lot of turnovers in the secondary and I'm impressed with how they pursue to the football. Their defensive team speed is excellent. Guys don't stay blocked. So we're going to have to match them in that area to have any chance.

Of course they lost their quarterback but I'm sure whoever they do have pulling the trigger will be good. We're going to have our work cut out in the secondary. And they have five guys (back) who played in the offensive line. Our lack of depth in the offensive line must be a comforting thing for their head coach because he's got some depth. Fred Smith is an excellent kick returner. Theyv'e got guys in positions to make plays so they're never going to be out of a game, whether it's in the return game or a turnover or deep pass. They have the potential to strike quickly in all three areas and that's dangerous.

What coaches will be in the press box:
Both our coordinators will be in the press box calling plays. Some guys like to be on the sideline, particularly defensive coordinators. But I prefer they both be in the box. Guy Holliday will be there because he's in charge of secondary coverages. And our graduate assistants will be in there recording statistical information and keeping up with tendencies.

What is the toughest obstacle to rebuilding he had not anticipated:
As I've said, changing habits is still the greatest obstacle. And ofr us as coaches, we have a plan in place, we know exactly what we want to do. We have to be disciplined ourselves to stick to that plan, no matter how frustrating it becomes. That's been the most difficult part. You know what you're asking them to do works and that you're on the right path, but for every step forward sometimes we take two backwards. Patience is our most important thing. And it's going to be that way throughout the season. We have a plan in place and we have to be disciplined to stick with the plan regardless of what happens.

Does he hope the history of his first game is secondary to the game:
Of course. I mean, I try to relay that to people. As much as I love history one day I'll appreciate it. I do feel good about the fact that my life will have made an impact. But right now the most important thing is our players, their welfare, and us winning ball games here at Mississippi State.

How many family and friends will be at his first game:
All my tickets are gone. There are about thirty people coming that I'm footing the bill for, the rest are on their own!

After 28 years as an assistant, his first chance to take his own team into a game:
Well, everything this year—as much as I've prepared and thought about it—is going to be a new experience. I'm going to have to get through this week, all the details and from the administrative standpoint. I'll be nervous as always, even as an assistant I was nervous.

I try to anticipate all that but it'll be a good feeling to come out there the first time with your team, that you're responsible for. It's the chance to line up against another head coach and see how you match up. The same way I prepared as a player to go up against another guy, in my mind I'll be doing the same thing against their coach. Most of my dealings have been done, it's a matter now of executing the gameplans Ellis and Woody and Amos have come up with.

It's always been in the back of my mind, if I were a head coach how would I do it. This will be the culmination of a lot of that. It's the coming-together of everybody that has impacted me all my life. Right now I've got to look forward to the ball game. I wish my Dad and Coach Bryant were here to talk to, and to see what happens this weekend.

David Murray is the editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite, Powered by website. You can contact him by email at

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