Monday Press Conference Report

A single open date could not solve every issue the Mississippi State program is dealing with. But it certainly came in handy for this Bulldog team as it prepares for the two concluding contests of their season. Several players rested wounds, the balance of the varsity brushed up on some basics, and everyone in general worked on adding a couple of pages to the long-term gameplan.

"That's our goal now, just to improve," was how Coach Sylvester Croom put it. "And hopefully we'll make enough improvement to have a chance to win at Arkansas."

That chance comes Saturday as the Bulldogs visit Little Rock, the Razorbacks' home-away-from-home, for a SEC West matchup. Gametime at War Memorial Stadium is 1:00 with no telecast. Arkansas is 3-6 overall and 1-5 SEC after a 28-17 win at Mississippi, while Mississippi State is 2-7 and now the only SEC squad without a league win at 0-6.

And as the Bulldogs will be reminded all week, they also carry a losing streak of three-plus seasons in SEC road games to Little Rock. At this point Croom can shrug off such notes by pointing to the larger picture. "Oh, we've got a lot of things hanging over us now. We haven't won but two games this year. We lost to Houston and Georgia at home. Road games to me aren't any different, road games are just a little noisier."

At least his team is reasonably rested and ready for this road trip. During the free week the Bulldogs had two standard afternoon practices, then a shortened Thursday morning indoors workout to ‘break in' the Palmeiro Center before taking the weekend off. Or that's what the players did; the coaching staff was on their own roads recruiting, but even that change-of-pace was a refreshing break of sorts.

"And we needed the rest, mentally as well as physically," Croom said. "It was perfect time for our break and then finish up with two games. Hopefully we've got guys rejuvenated and ready to go."

Initial reports are positive there. "It seems we're in pretty decent shape to start week," Croom said. "We played a very physical game against Alabama and we were very limited what do last week. But everybody is ready to go today." Everybody expected that is; defensive end Michael Heard is still doubtful with a hairline leg fracture for the tenth game of the campaign. "It's a possibility, but a long shot," Croom said.

Other players who were either limited or entirely held out last week—receivers Will Prosser and Joey Sanders, fullback Bryson Davis, tackle Brian Anderson, defensive end Titus Brown, and guard Johnny Wadley among others—should be at practice in some capacity this afternoon. Croom did not have an update on Keith Andrews' groin pull that kept the placekicker out of the Kentucky and Alabama games, but Andrews was making a few short kicks by mid-week.

The non-game week was certainly helpful in another aspect, as it provided the offensive staff a less pressurized setting to work with quarterback Mike Henig. The redshirt freshman took over two series into the Kentucky game and played all but a half-dozen snaps against Alabama. Croom confirmed Henig's status Monday morning. "Mike will start this game. Right now he's our quarterback." An off-week let Henig spend more time with Coach Woody McCorvey on and off the field analyzing his play as the primary quarterback, as well as refining some facets of his game for the end of the season.

Croom has been generally satisfied with Henig's performance after taking over. "Mike makes some plays, I feel he's got the potential to make some plays. He's throwing the ball pretty well and understands the offense pretty well. His consistency is probably the reason made the change more than anything else."

That change doesn't mean 16-game starter Omarr Conner is entirely out of the mix at all. Not only is the junior still more an alternate than backup, but he will be kept busy in other ways. Last week he traded in the no-touch red jersey quarterbacks wear for the maroon worn by the varsity offense, and practiced in split and slot positions as a receiver. This seemingly contradicted Croom's pre-Alabama comments that Conner would not be moved to wideout. Not at all, the coach says.

"I said we wouldn't move him, I didn't say he wouldn't work out at wide receiver. He's still our #2 quarterback, and getting some reps at wide receiver. He's too good a football player to sit on the bench. He's still going to play quarterback as well."

Whoever is throwing and catching, there has been some welcome development in Bulldog blocking. Croom has praised the offensive line lately for both their run- and pass-blocking. "But then again we had a lot of room for improvement!" the coach said. "We made a lot of improvement last week, but every rep is an adventure with these guys. The protection was probably our biggest improvement against Alabama. And it's got to carry over this week because Arkansas really comes after you. We have to know exactly what we're doing and not make mistakes."

That's crucial this week as the Razorback defense has been competitive most of this season, with the one obvious exception the 70-17 blowout by #1-ranked Southern Cal. "Throw that game out. I know as far as our preparations that game doesn't count," Croom said.

"They're well coached and will be well prepared, they don't do a lot of things to beat themselves. They better understand what they're doing. The package is tough because they give you a lot of looks. We're still sweating through some things as far as how to attack them." And now State's defensive staff has to sweat over an Arkansas offense that has suddenly developed a passing game with true frosh Casey Dick taking over two games ago. The Razorbacks already could run the ball with Darren McFadden, currently the SEC's rushing average leader. Now they can throw the ball, too. "It's going to be a tough football game," Croom said.

A tough road game, too, as this non-campus site is anything but neutral. Then again Croom says Saturday's setting is not something worth stressing at the moment. "All SEC venues are tough to play in, it's just like Florida or Alabama, they're all noisy." In Mississippi State's case there are more fundamental issues to see to first. "You focus on the game and don't let those things distract you. A lot of that comes from experience. But it comes from learning how to win and blocking things out.

"When you get to where you can win, you win on the road. When we get to where we win games at home we'll win on the road, too."

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