"If we can make as much improvement as we did in the first open week then I think we'll have a chance to finish strong in these next two ball games," Croom said following Tuesday's afternoon practice. The Bulldogs put in over two hours of work in helmets and shoulder pads in their second working day of a short week. State will practice at 3:15 Wednesday, then report for a Thursday morning run before taking the weekend break.
Croom called Tuesday's session a "fundamental practice, nothing special," but with a clear emphasis on the passing game. "Timing on routes, quarterback drops and reads," the head coach said. "We want to improve our passing game, we had some chances in the (Alabama) game the other night, we left a lot of plays out there. That's an area we have to continue to improve in."
It was also easier to focus on throwing and catching—and defending, too—with leading runner Jerious Norwood held out. The tailback aggravated a left-knee ligament in the Alabama game and is being protected for the end-of-season run. Also held out on offense were left guard Brian Anderson (ankle, leg bruise), and receivers McKinley Scott and Will Prosser, both with nagging hamstring problems. In the opening minutes guard Johnny Wadley went down with a neck ‘stinger,' which later in the afternoon would sideline defensive tackle Ron Fields. Defensive tackle Corey Clark (calf) and end Willie Evans (ankle) were in red-cross jerseys also.
Though the list of hurting starters and primary backups has grown each week, Croom actually thinks State came out of the Alabama game "rather healthy." The coach was also pleased with the team's effort and physical play in Tuscaloosa. That doesn't mean Croom was happy at all with the outcome. "We lost a game that in my opinion we should have won," he said flatly.
"I'm happy that we played hard but we're at a point now that hey, I expect us to play hard and physical. It's to the point I expect us to start playing well. We're a physically tough team, we've got to be a lot more mentally tough. Tough enough to execute our offense, defense, and kicking game exactly the way we practice it. That's what our focus is right now."
This week, he means, as the Bulldogs have a final brush-up on fundamentals and take care of mistakes pointed up on game tapes. Then, Croom will let the team rest up for Arkansas and Mississippi in the last two weekends. And while he doesn't forsee any lineup or scheme moves as in the first open date, Croom can hope for similar results after this break so State can end the year on another win streak.
"We made a lot of personnel moves in that first open week, we've done all that we can probably do. So we've got to concentrate on our mental framework and getting some guys healthy."
NOTE: Mississippi State was officially notified that the November 20 home game with Arkansas will not be televised, and thus kickoff at Scott Field will be 1:30. Kickoff for the season finale at Mississippi is yet to be set, but MSU officials are planning for a 11:30 a.m. start for Jefferson-Pilot regional telecast.