Tuesday Press Conference Recap

Coach Sylvester Croom held his Tuesday game-week press conference to discuss Mississippi State's upcoming contest with the University of Florida, this Saturday at 12:30et (11:30amct) at Florida Field.

About Florida: "I haven't checked where they are today (in the rankings) but they're definitely one of the most talented teams in the country. Last year they were the most talented team we played, and even after playing Auburn, Georgia, and LSU I've seen nothing to dissuade me from that opinion as of now. We're going to be playing in a very hostile environment, it's another great experience for our players, another challenge, another opportunity. The big thing for us is we've got to get better at the things we need to improve on to have a chance to compete with an outstanding Florida team. As I've said earlier, we've got a lot of work to do.

"Last week we missed great opportunities in the first half to draw even with LSU, in fact had we taken advantage of all the opportunities we had in the first half we very well could have been ahead at the half. Then the second half our defense had an opportunity to stop them on a big third-down play, we didn't and from there our confidence went downhill. We were put in a situation where we had to throw the football and their athleticism simply overmatched ours. I was very pleased with some of our younger players who came in the game later on, I thought they did some good things. Mike Henig ran the offense pretty well while he was out there. Brandon Thornton really stepped it up and will go into this game number-two behind Jerious Norwood. Brandon Hart also ran well, we moved him full-time to halfback last week and he did a very credible job for a guy who has been a fullback through his career. He gave us some power running inside. We had a lot of freshman offensive linemen play towards the end of the game, too, and they're still making mistakes but they got better. Each rep they get is another move forward in their maturing as good football players. "The things I was displeased with, our third down conversion offensively was very poor. We're not doing very well on first downs, still making too many mistakes particularly on things we have been doing for a long period of time. We still have some people who are not concentrating, our pre-snap penalties are way too many. We'll continue to work on those things, it may mean we have to get more playing time for some other people. But it has to get corrected."

Effect of losing offensive linemen no longer here: "I was looking at the Florida game last year this morning. I haven't said a whole lot about it, but we knew we were going to be without David Stewart, without question the best football player we had last year. That's graduation, you expect that. But we never anticipated losing Richard Burch as well. James Redmond was supposed to replace Stewart, then we have him to replace Burch and now we have to get somebody to replace Redmond. It continued on and on and on. For all practical purposes except for Chris McNeil we don't have a single starter on the offensive line from last year, because Brian Anderson should be a guard. I made a promise to myself I was not going to make any kind of excuses about anything this year because that's just not me. I knew when I came to this program we were going to have to build it, it was going to take some time. The big thing I wanted was make sure our players were working hard and positive, particularly our young players, and keep them moving forward.

"That's a problem. I was watching the Packers a little while late last night; four of their five offensive linemen from last year were not out there, their best wide receiver is not there from last year. When that happens you're going to struggle. Everywhere I've ever been, the good teams there was stability and excellence in the offensive line; every team I've struggled on there was instability in the offensive line. When you've got problems with the offensive line, you've got problems. That's not going to change until our young players get older."

About Calvin Wilson: "I know he's a freshman. He's an excellent tackle, but he's way behind. The time he missed, he's not in shape. He played the other day and got a little dehydrated, now he's got some chest pains. So I don't know how much work we're going to get out of him this week. I mean, if it continues I may redshirt him the rest of the year and not waste a year. I'm going to talk with him about that today, but if he can't practice no use taking time from somebody else. And if that happens that's another guy; he was the guy we expected to start at right tackle this year because he has excellent ability. But he's about 20 pounds too heavy because he's not worked and he's not getting enough reps to play. "Even experienced players can't not practice and play on Saturday. Jerious is proof of that. That's the reason he's not playing as well, because of the injuries that keep him from practicing. Even great players can't do that. Now we have a freshman that missed a lot of training camp and now he's missing practice. If it continues we're going to not waste this year. That's just the way it is."

Impact of 2004 win over Florida on attitude and recruiting: "No question it helped. It also kept me from cutting my throat! It was definitely a step forward and it validated a lot of things we were trying to get done, the discipline and learning how to win. We still are working on that. It definitely carried us the rest of the season and it proved to our prospects we were headed in the right direction. That's a large part of the reason we had a good recruiting year, it gave us momentum going into the end of the season. I mean, to win against a top-ten team now would be a huge win for us. A SEC game on the road against a top-ten team would be huge for us. That's what we're going to try to do, prepare and go down there and see if we can get a big win on the road. We're playing a fine team that is coming off a loss, they're not going to be real hospitable."

UF Coach Meyer installing a new offense as Croom did in 2004: "Well, it's a lot easier on Urban because he's got players. He's got more talent, his offensive line is more stable. For what he wants to do offensively he's at a perfect place. A quarterback has already been in a similar system, the wide receivers were already there. So it's not a total retooling. The athleticism of the skill people to do what he wants to do was already in place. It is a very explosive offense, the philosophy is very similar to what LSU does. Get great athletes, spread the field, and see if your guys can tackle them one-on-one. That's pretty much what he does."

How to defend UF's offense: "Everybody has gap assignments. What they're counting on is somebody being undisciplined. They're counting on you to chase rather than be disciplined enough to take care of your gap, for you to run off and take somebody else. If you've got the quarterback on that down-the-line option and you decide to take the halfback, as soon as you reach Leak is gone out the other side with the football. You've got to trust your other guy who has the back to take him. That's the discipline. If you don't stay with your responsibilities you're going to have problems."

On Chris Leak: "He is an excellent athlete, he can run the football. He could be an excellent option quarterback full-time but he is an excellent drop-back passing quarterback who can run the football. He's in an offense that suits his skill, he's tall enough to see downfield very well, he can escape the rush and stay in the pocket but if he has to come out he can definitely run and get first downs. He can beat you in space one-on-one with his feet. I really don't see any flaws with the guy."

Does Leak put more pressure on secondary or line? "I think it really puts more pressure on our offense. Because you've got to move the football if you're playing an offensive team like that. You have to take the ball and grind it out and get first downs and keep those guys off the field.

"Any time you make an offense one-dimensional, when they have to throw every down, the defense has an edge because they can rush the passer. But if they are in a balanced attack mode where they can sit back in the shotgun and run that little halfback zone play, then come back and throw that thing to Chad Jackson downfield, and run receivers across or throw in a reverse or a wide receiver screen, the defense is off-balance all the time. You have to take something away first. In reality you're not going to take the passing game away from them, you just want to keep it in front of you and not give up big plays. You still have to take the running game away, if you do they will have difficulties."

How did State win in 2004? "As a coach you can never totally explain sometimes how you win, and you try to figure out all the time why did we lose when we had so many opportunities? Bottom line, we made plays. Our wide receivers made plays, Joey Sanders had a couple of big catches and runs, we had a big catch from McKinley Scott, Will Prosser made a couple of nice catches. We were able to convert third downs. There were very few times when plays were there we did not make the plays. The protection was good, Omarr Conner did not do anything to hurt us, we had one turnover. Defensively, as that happened our confidence grew.

"Confidence is a big factor when you're fighting an uphill battle and it all seems sometimes to be against you. But you try to take one step at a time, one play at a time, and that's all we ask them to do."

State's conditioning as a factor: "I believe this, and I have to believe it knowing all the work we've done. If we can keep the game close going into the fourth quarter I believe our conditioning will give us the edge. I believe that totally and I think our players believe that. They should, because you cannot have worked any harder than we have worked and still be alive."

Playing at UF for first time: "It doesn't matter to me but I'm sure to a 17-year-old it probably does to some degree. We don't go to stadiums now, we've tried to de-emphasize that type thing. Hey, they're going to have a big crowd, they're going to be noisy, they don't like you. But the field is still 120-yards long so let's go play. We'll do all our work here as we normally do. We may do a walk-through sometimes, we won't this week but sometimes I may take them to the stadium and let them walk around."

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