Henig's activation, and junior York's starting assignment, are being forced by the knee injury starter Omarr Conner suffered in the 51-0 loss to Louisiana State. Conner, who already had a sore left shoulder after the Maine game, went down three plays into the third period at Baton Rouge with a strained MCL. Croom does not expect him to be back for three weeks at the earliest.
York has started twice in the past two years, at Oregon and Memphis in 2002. Saturday he joked that he's always getting starts on the road, but the situation is no laughing matter for the 1-3 Bulldogs. York is still unable to throw full-strength consistently after shoulder surgery last winter to repair the rotator cuff. "His shoulder is not 100%," Croom said, "I'm not going to lie and say it is. It's like a baseball pitcher, we can't expect him to throw a full nine innings. It's just the type of operation he had."
Thus Henig will take off the redshirt and play his first college game at Nashville. "Mike has a very good arm," Croom said, "he's learning the offense. He's had a lot of reps since the day he got here because we like his throwing ability, his leadership, his poise. But he's a freshman and he hasn't played and now his first game is a conference game, on the road. But I have great confidence in Mike."
Croom is also ready to place more confidence in some other young pups one month into the season. He said that running back DeMarcus Johnson and linebacker Anthony Littlejohn will be prepared to play at Vanderbilt. These two true frosh are not absolutely certain of getting in the game, but the coach will make a decision after the usual Monday scrimmage the rookies and reserves participate in.
"If I see what I think I'll see, these are guys that will possibly play this week." Croom also said freshman Mario Bobo will be back in the starting lineup at right cornerback. He did not forsee any other starting lineup changes as of today.
Croom did like some things he saw from the LSU review that affirmed lineup changes made two weeks ago. Defensive tackle Andrew Powell and linebacker Marvin Byrdsong have played well in defeat. "Andrew has improved over the last three weeks at a tremendous rate, he was our top defensive player at LSU. Marvin really got after them, he made some mental mistakes but he was aggressive and physical. And Mario is one of those guys that plays with great enthusiasm. We're letting him grow into the role and develop there."
This accelerated youth movement is as much due to precocious effort from kids as it has been frustration with a handful of veterans. Without naming names, Croom had some pointed comments Monday. "I don't think a lot of our players are used to being challenged," he said, adding that there has been a lingering assumption by some unspecified starters and players that their jobs are secure just because they are on the dress-out list. No more, the coach said.
"Now the guys who deserve to play will play and dress out. If we can't find but 50 guys who deserve to dress that's the way it will be. There is no entitlement, and that seems to be some of our players' attitude."
Along those lines Croom said he wants to see more of what backup tailback Jason Jude can do this week, and that linebacker Titus Brown will play more snaps. But even with personnel changes tending to put younger and less-experienced personnel on the field Croom does not intend to alter the gameplan radically.
"We won't change much as far as our preparations this week. We've got to get our guys focused and their heads up. We've got a lot of football left to play this season and that's what they've got to understand. It's a long season, I mean that literally, and you have to play them one game at a time."
The next opponent, Vanderbilt, is 0-3 after a loss to Navy and like State winless in two conference games. That doesn't make preparing for this game any easier, Croom said. "I think they're much improved over what they were in the past. They play with great enthusiasm and intensity." The Commodores also play an option offense State has not seen, so the Dog defense has a lot of new stuff to learn this week.
"And this is a great challenge for us, playing another conference road game," Croom said. He certainly hopes this one plays out better than contests with Auburn and LSU, but also doesn't want the Bulldogs to see Vanderbilt as a season-maker or breaker.
"I've told the players as we go through the season you find guys who are mentally tough, who really believe in what we're trying to do, who are strong enough to weather the storm. And you continue to build the program around those people. The guys you find out think otherwise, they take on a lesser role. It's all part of the process, nobody likes to go through it."