Tuesday Press Conference Notes

Coach Sylvester Croom held his Tuesday game-week press conference to discuss the upcoming home contest with Alabama. The Bulldog coach discussed the opponent first, but most of the questions were about the status of quarterbacks Mike Henig and Omarr Conner; whether Conner might see action in another role this week or month; and the mental attitude the Bulldogs are being asked to prepare for this matchup.

Opening comments: "It's Alabama week, we're excited about the upcoming game and playing one of the best teams in the country. It's an exciting challenge for us, they're undefeated and our players are looking forward to seeing how we measure up. Our record of course is not where we want it to be, we've lost two games we felt we should have won the last two weeks. But nothing matters right now but preparing for this game.

"I thought our preparation was good yesterday, we're about as healthy as we normally would be. Some guys practiced on a limited basis yesterday, I expect them to go full-speed today. The only guy we really have concerns about is Keith Andrews, it's going to be touch-and-go. Other than that we're pretty healthy.

"The things we're going to work on this week are trying to eliminate some of the mistakes that have plagued us, especially in the red zone offensively and defensively the last two weeks, and see if we can get those corrected. At the same time our defense has got to get back playing at a level where we can stop good running backs. Because we're playing one of the better ones in the conference, probably in the country, in Kenneth Darby. "We're going to have to have all phases of our game step up and every person on our team has to play at his maximum level in order for us to have a chance to win the game."

Which concerns him more, Alabama's offense or defense: "Well, neither more than the other. I think they're both very effective. They've got a lot of experience on defense, six seniors and four juniors, so those guys have played together for some time. They understand the schemes and know where they're supposed to be, they rarely void coverages and things like that or miss gap assignments. They don't give you anything, you have to block them or run through them. They tackle well and have exceptional speed.

"Offensively you start with their quarterback and running back. They're very efficient right now because of Brodie Croyle's experience, he's very accurate and has a good arm and is a very heady player. He's not going to make mistakes. Their experience on the key positions on defense and at quarterback and running back I think makes them a good team. They don't do things to beat themselves. Then they have explosive speed and size at wide receiver, I think they brought four of them in the same class two years ago and they're exceptional talents."

Has the Alabama offense changed with the loss of Tyrone Prothro: "I don't think it's changed much at all except for his actual presence. When he was there they did a lot of things to try to get him the football, of course he's the most explosive of them all. But there's not a great talent drop when you go to Keith Brown and the other guys they have there. They're guys are similar to LSU, they've got big guys, tall guys, with exceptional speed. That just shows how good they are, when their best receiver is not playing and they're still a highly-efficient offense."

On Mike Henig's recruitment: "Woodrow McCorvey has a lot of ties in the Montgomery area, we started watching Mike as soon as we came on board here. It took us a while as far as the evaluation process and he had a couple of other offers, and we weren't sure where we were headed there. We had to look at a lot of tape because there were questions about his size and height. Then he had a solid Auburn background, I think he was waiting to see what happened there. But we liked things, particularly the intangibles we saw. Those things have been evident since he's been here and showed up the other night. He is an intense competitor and has a knack for making plays, turning his mistakes into positives."

Was the change based on Henig's play or Conner's struggles: "Mike has done well, if he had not we would not have made that change. I don't like changing quarterbacks just to be changing quarterbacks. Mike was doing well, he was constantly improving, but the thing you always question in back of your mind is what if we make this change and it doesn't work? So it was a lot of thought for a week or so before I decided to make that move. And once we make it, we make it. That's not to say Omarr won't have a chance, he's still our #2 quarterback and he threw the ball extremely well yesterday. They'll still compete for the spot and we'll see how things go from there. But this week Mike is our quarterback."

Does this change or cut out any things the offense does: "No, not really. The one thing I might have previously been concerned about last year or early in the season was how well Mike would do out on the perimeter in some of our movement package. I think he showed on that third down play (inside the MSU five-yard line) that he was very aggressive and went after the first down and got it, even though he was hit he fought through and got the first down. I think that settled any doubts I had about him being able to operate on the perimeter."

Is there any thought of playing Omarr Conner at receiver: "It was a short thought. It didn't last long. He's our #2 quarterback and we're not going to move him to receiver. Everybody talks about when Omarr was a receiver, I think that was about 20 pounds ago. It's a big difference. Yeah, you can do certain things with him out there, but he's not going to learn to run those patterns and run them efficiently in one week. If that was the case the guys out there running them would have been running them perfectly weeks ago."

Do you mean not this week or not this season: "He will not move to wide receiver this season, at all. He's going to stay our #2 quarterback, he will not move to wide receiver."

Was Henig a reason for the big game by Milons and Prosser: "I hope it was because we continue to harp (on discipline). And I showed them a clip of why Joey Sanders has been catching the ball when he opportunities to all year, because he looks the football in. Our other receivers had not been doing that. Now will had caught the ball well but we had not been able to get him a lot, when we did he makes the plays. But Tee has not caught the ball well all year and it's because he doesn't look it in all the time. He has good hands and he takes that for granted. Often guys who have good hands do that, and they get away with it in practice sometimes but you don't get away with it in games. Because in practice you know you're not getting hit, and it's that little bit extra right there of lack of concentration. The really good receivers I've been around look the ball all the way into their hands. To play receiver at this level you have to have good hands, the question is the discipline with your eyes. That separates the really ones form the guys that play at being a receiver."

So you don't think it's how Henig throws the ball: "I don't think so. The week before the ball hit us right in the face and we dropped it. Where else are we going to put it?"

Many of the NCAA's top-rated defense are in the SEC; is it a down year for offense or good defense: "I think it's a down-year for the offense. Think about it, in this conference there's probably not a running back or a quarterback who is going to be a projected first-round draft choice this year. There's sure no Bo Jackson or Herschel Walker in the conference this year. Last year Auburn had two first-round backs and a first-round quarterback, I don't see anybody in the conference right now that's on a par with those three players. It'll turn around, believe me, it always does."

The MSU-Alabama series: "I know the games I participated in were always physical contests. When I was at Alabama, the ones we won it was usually won late in the game sheerly because we had the numbers on our side as far as depth and players able to play. Of course 25 years ago (in 1980) that wasn't the case because the talent gap started to narrow some, you had great players in there. In my mind the talent level was reversed because several players on that defense State had ended up outstanding NFL players when very few on that Alabama team did. The physicalness, that was an outstanding game. The next year that Alabama won in Tuscaloosa was to me one of the great games I've ever been involved with, that one went right down to the wire. And it was as emotional a game as I've ever been involved with. But even the games I played in, the first half was usually a slugfest and at some point the game came open.

"But those games don't have an effect on the game we're playing this week. And I'm not that much concerned about the Alabama team, either—what I am concerned about is how our players approach this game from a mental standpoint. It's going to take a great effort on our part to have a chance to win. It's going to take a great deal of preparation. We can't just prepare over here in our meetings and with our coaches, what I've asked our players to do is sacrifice some time this week. They've got to give up a little extra time, get over here early and stay a little late to prepare themselves mentally to win this game. We've got to be thinking about Alabama all week long. When they go class I hope the professors don't get upset with them but I want them to be thinking about Alabama. When they're sitting with their girlfriend tonight I want them to be thinking about Alabama. If they concentrate on it and focus on the things we do in practice, then play for 60 full minutes one play at a time, and give the best effort we can give, then we've got a chance to win this game. But we're going to have to play it totally committed from the bottom of our feet to the top of our heads to have any chance to win the football game."

Using Jerious Norwood and Brandon Thornton in the same backfield: "That's part of our package, we do whatever we can do to get the best football players on the field. We try to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers and Jerious and Brandon are two of our best playmakers. It's not plays, it's the players. I tell the players all the time if you don't make plays in practice don't look for it in games."

Based on practice do the players believe they have a chance to win: "I do believe we think we have a chance to win. If I didn't, I'd not dress some players. I told the players if I have any doubt you're not ready to play this game you won't get dressed."

The challenge of red-zone offense: "It's funny you ask that, this morning we were looking at our red-zone tape. Somebody made the comment (Steve) Spurrier said he didn't worry about goal-line offense because he intended to score long before he got that close! The closer you get that end line becomes a 12th guy. You can run a lot of things in the field, the closer to that end line those defensive backs aren't biting because they know you aren't going anywhere. And often at the ten-yard line you see all four secondary guys and linebackers sitting on the goal line, we call it ‘picket fence' coverage.

"The best way to get the football in the end zone now, from the 15-yard line in, is to run it. Because the passing game is tough. if you can't run it you're in serious trouble down there. The passing game gets limited, that's why a defensive coach always tells you if they're going to score down there make them throw it, don't let them run it in. you really get one-dimensional. One of the toughest areas is 1st-and-goal on the nine, because you've basically got three chances. That's why we work so hard running the ball in that area. There are no high-lows down there. Now that's where your individual talent at wide receiver or tight end shows up, you can beat a guy one-on-one."

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