Press Conference Report

Coach Sylvester Croom held his Tuesday game-week press conference this afternoon. An edited transcript of the coach's comments about the matchup with #7-ranked Georgia and answers to reporter questions follows.

The week's outlook: "It's a big game this week, against a great opponent. Fine players, good coaching staff, tradition, all that good stuff that you like about college football. We've got it all here on our campus Saturday night in prime time, so we're excited about being a part of that." Beating Tulane: "We had guys who played very well last week. Willie Evans of course had an outstanding game, David Heard, Kevin Dockery, Quinton Culberson, Clarence McDougal. Blake McAdams did an excellent job punting and keeping us out of trouble all night long. Offensive Omarr Conner did some good things, even thought statistically it's not a great game he did some things as far as running the offense that we were pleased with. And Chris McNeil had one of his better games. I was very pleased with the way we handled the difference in our routine last week, the adversity of it.

"It was a tough, long, hard week and I'm still concerned about us getting rested from last week, being able to do the fundamental work we need to get done in order to get better. If I had a truly veteran football team with a lot of experience we'd be in shorts all week under these circumstances. But we're still very young and have a lot of work to do in order to get better and have any chance of beating Georgia. It's a fine line we have to cross this week, but our players are excited about it and we'll be enthusiastic.

Three-straight games against top-ten teams: "It's just part of being in the conference. It's going to happen some years like that. But it's a great challenge, it's a fun part of it. If you want to play big-time ball and like playing in front of the cameras, playing in front of big crowds, well, we've got that opportunity now for the next three weeks. It's big-time. And we're going to focus on this one because we definitely have to take them one at a time. But this truly is what college football is about—playing a big-time opponent, on TV, what more can you ask for? It's great exposure for our program, a great chance for our players to display their skills, their character, to see the product of all the hard work they've put in. I look at it as a challenge but more than that as a great opportunity for us."

Similarities this week to the 2004 Florida Game: "Well, I hope there's a lot of carry-over effect from that game. We won't know until around midnight Saturday, but I sure do hope so. I've been talking to our players, last year's Auburn team and Florida team, this year's Auburn team…I doubt anyone puts Southern Cal or one of those NFL teams on the schedule, (so) we won't see any more talent than we saw in those games. There's nothing to be afraid of, we know what to expect. We've been up against the best so let's go line up and play. There's nothing to be nervous about, let's go play and get it on."

Does having played Ken Topps help prepare for D.J. Shockley: "I think so. We'll see, but it's definitely better than not having played a guy like Topps and having won. It's not going to be easy, this guy is bigger and just as elusive, and he has a better cast of characters around him. That changes everything. We were able to shut down Murray State's running game and focus on Topps, and even that was difficult. Georgia has an excellent running game, excellent wide receivers. This will be a huge challenge for our defense."

MSU's offensive line: "They didn't have any sacks this week so that's a positive. That's the first thing you are always afraid of. I don't worry as much about us running the football, I really don't. When I get worried is in our protections, making sure we can throw the football. Because if there's any crack Jerious Norwood will find it. We have to be able to run the football but when we do get in the situation where we have to throw our protections have to hold up.

"Omarr is throwing the ball pretty well right now, if we give him time he'll complete some passes. We still have to scheme some things, the reality is we still don't match up as well as I'd like to physically in the offensive line vs. the top defensive lines around. This year none of our players played offensive tackle last year. Brian Anderson was a guard and he'll be the first to tell you playing left guard is a mile away from playing left tackle, that two-foot split changes everything. We don't have a single (veteran) tackle, Anthony Strauder didn't start at guard last year, Johnny Wadley didn't start most of the year. Chris McNeil is really the only true starting offensive lineman from last year, that would make any coach in this conference real worried. And then our backups are freshmen."

On Will Prosser: "Because of his injury we've tried to limit the kind of routes and things we ask him to do, and that's allowed him to be very productive even under the circumstances of not being able to practice on a regular basis. Right now he's very valuable to us."

On Willie Evans: "He might say he's progressed in spite of me the last two years! But he played a very good game the other night, great effort, great intensity. He did not have a quality spring, I think he was distracted by some things off the field and had his attentions elsewhere. But he's come back this fall really focusing and trying to have a big year, and the other night was a great individual effort. And he's going to have an opportunity this week to have another one.

"I think our players understand now yeah, we are a little in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mode. If you don't play well this week you won't start next week, it's just that simple. That's the way of the world. You get it done every week and what you did last week doesn't matter. It's what you do today that counts. That's always the case when you have a change in coaching staff, it takes some guys longer to adjust to the change. It took Willie a little bit longer, and he may still not be totally adjusted but that's OK. This is not a popularity contest, they don't always have to like the head coach. As long as they abide by the rules and play with the enthusiasm I expect them to play. Sometimes liking people all the time is a little overrated, but respect is a must."

On Kevin Dockery's tackling: "He had an outstanding training camp, I thought Dock approached it like a NFL player. He went out every day with a professional attitude, he was going to strap it on, smile and have a great time. He competed in every drill, it was really amazing to see because last year I didn't think we had anybody take that kind of mental approach towards practice. He made it fun for himself. Now we're seeing the results of the work he put in. Just the tackling in the open field, the timing and breaking on balls, sometimes he's almost too confident. But a good corner has to be confident, in fact you have to be downright arrogant to play back there and be very good at it.

"I've got to believe those tackling drills are paying off. Both he and David Heard are not very big, but Dock made a few hits that looked like he was propelled from a gun. Demario Bobo is the one who really surprises me, that was a major decision when we moved him back to that position. We moved him to get some more range, because Florida hit a few post-patterns on us last year and we knew we had to put somebody back there to cover ground and keep people from going deep over our middle safety. He has speed and length. We felt we were giving up run support doing that but so far that has not been the case. He played well the other night, but the Auburn game really surprised me the way he tackled. In spring he was not one of our better tacklers but he has really improved it."

Medical redshirt for Derek Ambrose?: "Paul (Mock) is checking into that, we really don't get into redshirt things until well after a season is over, Paul says there's no hurry. I'm really heartbroken for Derek, because he had come a long way. He's a walk-on who had some difficulty early in his college career, he came here and did not get off on the best of starts but has really persevered. I've seen a great change in him as a person, he contributed on special teams last year and we always thought he had some skills as a running back but when we gave him an opportunity he'd do something in a negative manner that did not inspire confidence. Just when he got to the point that it warranted an opportunity to play running back, this happens.

"It was one of the great plays of my coaching career, for a college kid especially. He truly got blindsided, it was legal but boy was it a great lick on the part of the Tulane player. That's part of the game. He tore his ACL on contact, got up off the ground and went ten yards trying to finish the play and dropped. It was just great heart. A lot of guys wouldn't have gotten up. Whatever we can do to help him we'll definitely do that. He's one of those that has benefited greatly from the Student Relief Fund and the things our athletic department has done to help those players."

Why use defensive ends in tackle positions? "Speed. And we primarily recruit defensive ends and big linebackers, speed guys, with the idea some of them bulk up and play inside at some point. But it gives us better pass rushing (with) Charles Burns, Willie Evans, Titus Brown. And Quinton Wesley, a guy we'll carry every week and play if we need to. Hopefully we can get through this year without playing him because we are two-deep in the defensive line. He's probably good enough to play now but if he's not going to play 25%-30% of the time it would be a waste.

"It really increases our speed as far as pass rushing and still allows us to play the run game halfway-decent."

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