From The Dawghouse

While zooming eastward this afternoon, fresh from a feast of crawfish both fried and etouffe'd with check charitably picked up by the bro-in-law, I couldn't help but recall the last time I'd been in this southerly lane of I-20. It was a whole lot darker, colder, and slower on New Year's Morning 2001 as I (foolishly) left at 12:30 a.m. headed home on a sheet of slush, and thanking both Heaven and Soichiro Honda that I got there after seven hours in third gear and at 4,500 rpm. My ears still ring.

Today's drive was in clear conditions, on dry highway, in a Kraut hatchback, and with cruise set comfortably at…fast enough not to get run over by the zillion heavy haulers that make interstate travel far less fun and often block any view of the ‘Vanishing Point' ahead. Some of you may know what that means. I could even cope with all the 18-wheelers, if only all you fools who can't turn the SUV's key without also sticking a cellphone in an ear would HANG UP AND STEER. I guess that's why nobody has a hand free to operate a turn signal any more.

OK, I feel better, though I do miss the more-open roads of days gone by…not to mention fuel half as costly especially since my BayEmVee prefers 89-octane. But getting on to some sort of point here, did anyone else catch themselves considering all that has happened to, at, and for Mississippi State between visits to the Indy Bowl Stadium?

I have absolutely no intent, nor the energy, to evaluate that epoch since the Snow Bowl. Though we can likely agree that had Jackie Sherrill bowed out after Wayne Madkin's game-winning dive five years ago there would surely be a statue of the coach somewhere on campus today. And I also must note that the back wall of the Indy pressbox features a couple-score of plaques to Bowl stars and winning coaches, but nobody from State. An oversight, surely, considering MSU (and A&M) gave the best Indy Bowl game ever.

Anyway, as one of the band's currently in my CD changer puts it, "what a long, strange trip it's been" these past five years. Frustrating, too. But I guess it's just my sentimental streak (or aftereffects of the etouffe) that I dare to posit something. That is, Mississippi State's first victory in Shreveport marked the end of an era, even if we didn't know it at the time. So dare we suggest that this 2005 win in the same stadium, if under much more pleasant conditions, could also someday be seen as another benchmark of sorts? That is, as the start of a much more enjoyable stretch of Bulldog success? I write that knowing exactly who the Dogs are about to face in the next month, because I'm seeing a few more hints of what Sylvester Croom and staff have planned and how they intend to get it done. Hopefully come November the same signs will be showing on the scoreboard, too.

And if things work out that this team earns a return trip to Shreveport in December, well, I'll be content to play dodge-cars on I-20 again. I'll even pay for the meal this time, Robert…

*So, how do we list it? Last night's victory, that is. Did Mississippi State score a true ‘road' win or will it be listed henceforth as a neutral-site triumph? That was the press-box question for all of us writing on deadlines (thankfully mine are a bit more generous than most). I know that's a rather esoteric question for most and for their part the Dogs were clear—they proclaimed it a road win and no debate allowed. Look, when you haven't won anything off-campus in three years--and not a heckuva lot at home in the same span either—such technical matters are entirely mundane.

Along that line of thought, State players could care less if many fans are wringing their hands today about how the game played out. The majority of this dress-out roster earned the right to welcome new experiences, of leaving an unfamiliar locker room victorious and boarding an airplane happy. It's been too dang long for a lot of these Dogs and only an unrepentant Scrooge would dare diminish their youthful delight…

*It oughtn't surprise any that I do not report on many things seen at game-week practices. Injury updates, depth chart changes, general attitudes, all of that is fair game for us observers. Schemes and plays? Not no but heck no. Even some position changes are beyond the pale if it could have a bearing on the upcoming contest. Coach Croom has struck a reasonable balance, based on his experience in pro ball. Here, as long as we reporters show common sense, we can watch quite a bit and get ‘background' for the week that will come in handy for postgame reporting.

That said, it was darn tempting last week to divulge a tidbit from practices in light of the post-Auburn message board brouhaha. Specifically, about why State doesn't put Omarr Conner in a shotgun and—so the logic goes—both give the quarterback more room to work and the still-shaky line more margin to work with. The online feuding got rather intense, you'll recall. Well, what did I behold this past week but Conner lining up three steps deep during some—not nearly all—passing drills? But as satisfying as it would have been to silence the debate, NO WAY was I breaking that story and losing practice access forevermore. Rightly, too. The ‘net is a true new media but some old-school rules will always apply…

*I don't do sideline-snapping any more and don't miss it much, either. But I did wish for a camera after the game, when Conner came out of the locker room as requested for interviews, hurried from his postgame shower and quickly garbed in tee-shirt, shorts…and black wingtips. Laces neatly tied, too. For that matter y'all should see the sorts of suits these guys wear to the stadium on gameday. Most are straightforward dress-for-success brands, but some Dogs don cut-and-color combos that would cause cardiac arrests at Brooks Bros.

*Look for Calvin Wilson to play this season. I just don't know which game to look for him in. Croom really, really wants to get the big kid in the game ASAP and not just to put another freshman on the field. He intends to put a talented blocker on the line and get what all anticipate will be a stellar college career going. Goodness knows last night proved even OK defenses like Tulane are going to get into the Bulldog backfield too often; and leaving a fullback, a tight end, or both in as full-time blockers removes needed options from the offense.

But I also suspect the staff is going to be somewhat cautious about how to get these true-frosh feet wet given who State is about to play. Over the years how many rookies have we seen rushed into action too early and scarred, even broken, for the rest of their MSU careers? Still this one seems an exceptional case. The kid appears to have the right attitude to go with obvious size and talent. His condition is far from ideal of course but that's allowed for. And I wish y'all could just see Wilson doing ‘up/downs' prior to practices. At 360-plus pounds he should flop to the turf; instead he hits it full-force (and the plastic grass moves, oh yes) and bounds right back up like, oh, a 260-pounder. Wilson is an athlete who just happens to also be very, very large.

True, many still hope he redshirts, but I've come around to thinking otherwise for two simple reasons. First, getting Wilson in now should have him really ready for the second half of the season when the schedule gets a bit more promising. And second, with that bulk Wilson would at least force pass-rushing ends to take an extra step or two to get to the backfield…

*I really, really expected State to dominate Tulane start-to-finish. My private prediction was something like 30-3 in fact. One quarter in and it clearly wasn't going to happen, with a gameplan so conservative it made Pat Buchanan seem a socialist. Good thing Jerious Norwood's shoulder was healthy as it took a beating on all those ‘tween-the-tackles dives.

But there was sound thinking to State's approach of playing more not to lose than to outright win. If you read the scouting report you'll recall just how many seniors and veteran starters Tulane had on defense; certainly that was the best Wave D in my memory, though that might be faint praise to some. Tulane also had some attitude on that side of the ball, which became far more a factor than any of the emotional aspects State appears to have overestimated. Those guys came to play and thought State was ripe for beating.

So it's to Bulldog credit they did just enough to win a losable game. Sure, I'd rather have seen a romp start-to-finish, a lot of backups getting playing time, and a broader selection of offensive options in the first half. But once that last-gasp pass fell to ground (whew!) we could see the obvious benefits of winning one the hard way, and away. I have to think the players learned some things about themselves that will pay off in future tests against better competition.

That said, I also have to believe the Bulldogs will need to apply several more pages from the playbook to have any chance of beating anyone left on the schedule. They must to play to win those, in other words…

*Finally, there's not much question who has emerged as Mississippi State's first-month MVP. Without Blake McAdams, the Bulldogs likely lose to Tulane just on field positioning. His coach is certainly thrilled with the freshman's footwork this September, so much so that twice now Croom has told reporters he plans to send former Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe a thank-you note for leaving Oxford, and thus leaving McAdams open for re-recruiting.

I really expect when the SEC announces their Players of the Week picks that the Bulldog rookie will be the Special Teams honoree after a ten-punt night and near-46 yard average.


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