Defensive Dogs Dominate First Scrimmage

He liked what the defense did. And while there were some erratic efforts he found positive things to say about other aspects of the kicking game. But after that, Coach Sylvester Croom's evaluation on Mississippi State's scrimmage practice took a turn for the worse.

"I've got more questions now than I had coming in about the offense," Croom said.

There was certainly reason to question the Bulldog offense…or offenses. Because in the course of the hour-and-a-half scrimmage, neither the first nor second units were able to get the ball into the end zone. All either group had to show for their afternoon was three ventures into the redzone resulting in a trio of field goal kicks, and even one of those missed.

As if the offensive squad needed any further frustration, there was one touchdown scored at Scott Field today. By the defensive team, when first-cornerback David Heard picked up a bouncing fumble from halfback Christian Ducre and galloped 77 yards for the ‘score.' Croom hadn't come to the field anticipating lots of offensive fireworks, of course, but this day's results failed to meet even modest expectations.

"I didn't see anything good about the offense except we handled the clock well," the coach said. "We didn't run it well, we didn't throw it well, we didn't pass-protect, we didn't run-block. We did nothing well, the only time we moved the ball was when we put the second defense out there, and I don't think South Carolina is going to play their second defense."

Since this was an intrasquad action there had to be a positive flip-side, and Croom saw almost nothing but plusses from the defensive team(s). He let the first unit take on the first offense twice before mixing in members of the alternate/backup units with starters, and regardless of combinations these defenses functioned capably.

"Our defense played very well," croom said. "We rushed the passer well, we shut down the run, we scored on defense, we caused some fumbles. The only thing we did was have some aggression penalties, and I'll take those. No pre-snap or post-whistle penalties. The defense came to play today." And even if the second defense did give up some yards and first downs later on they never gave up points regardless of which offensive unit was on the field.

There wasn't much in the way of statistics to report. Ducre ended up the leading first-unit rusher with 27 yards on 10 carries, as starter Brandon Thornton worked just the first two series with 3 runs for 4 yards. "We already know what he can do, that's why I wanted to get him out of there," Croom said. He also wanted to give Ducre a serious challenge as the transfer, who showed great quickness his early days in camp, has been slowing down as the days wear on. "He's probably a little dead-legged now. And he's still not totally confident in what he's doing. But he's going to help us, if we can get that waiver thing."

Starting quarterback Mike Henig had a long afternoon, completing just 9 of 23 throws for 23 yards with two interceptions, though the receiver failed to protect the ball on that second takeaway. Henig's best target was wideout Lance Long with 2 catches and 48 yards.

The one offensive Dog who had a positive day was Tray Rutland. He completed 8 of 18 for 158 yards, and in the process solidified his place as the second quarterback. "Tray did play better than he has practiced," Croom said. "He threw well and made good decisions. He was too slow at the line of scrimmage but he did throw well." Meanwhile Ty Evans did not help his case to be #2, going 1 of 3 for 5 yards.

Besides Thornton, the State staff chose to limit the snaps for starting receiver Omarr Conner and fullback Bryson Davis and use the scrimmage to evaluate their alternates and backups.

The scrimmage seemed to begin well for the first offense as on the opening play Henig hit Will Prosser for ten yards. Then they did not succeed in moving the chains again until their seventh series, and that against a backup defensive team. The first series ended on a punt, as did five of the next six with the second turn stopped on an interception. Henig overthrew tight end Eric Butler and De'Mon Glanton pulled in the pass.

The second offense provided a few more sparks, albeit against their second defense counterparts. On a third-down scramble Rutland rolled hard to his left and fired a sideline strike to Jason Husband for 30 yards down to the nine. Rutland should have had a touchdown toss but tight end Jeremy Jones let it go off his hands in the end zone, and the ‘green' offense settled for a field goal. The green team almost came through again as Rutland laid one in to Tyler Threadgill over the middle for a run down to the two-yard line. The defense threw back three attempts on the end zone so another field goal was kicked.

And that was all for either offense as far as opportunities to put up points. On the seventh series the first team did get a second first down as Henig found Long. Later the two hooked up again for a 26-yard gainer down to the 15. That was against the backup defense; the first D was inserted here on first down and two snaps later Heard was catching Ducre's fumble on the hop and headed the other way. Henig tried to run him down but the cornerback went the distance for the only goal-line breaker of the whole day.

After that Croom gave the #1 offense a private lecture, and they responded with consecutive first downs. It came to nought as Henig threw long for Keith Mills. Safety Jonathan Hill got his hands in on the catch and wrestled the ball away for another turnover.

With the Dog defense showing up so solidly, it was worth asking if State's offensive issues are simply a matter of being overmatched by a very good unit. Croom allowed that was a possibility.

"But I'm sure we're going to play defenses just as good as ours. So I told them if we can move the ball against our defense we'll be a pretty good offense. Until that happens it isn't good enough."

The first of two August scrimmages was also the first chance to get a read on special teams. Parts weren't very special; in fact the afternoon began with Threadgill, in deep return, first dropping the kickoff and then having it knocked free on the tackle. Neither Blake McAdams nor Brooks Crabtree punted particularly well and both the coverage and punting units had troubles getting the right people onfield in time. Placekicking was more efficient and Keith Andrews drilled a 52-yarder, against the first block unit, with room to spare.

Croom was more satisfied by another aspect. "In the kicking game we got some questions answered about who our returners are going to be. I'm pleased with that. I know who they are now." He wouldn't tell reporters, but judging strictly by the plays Adron Chambers is now moving up these ranks fast.

A positive Saturday development was the number of injured Dogs able to scrimmage. Offensive tackles Calvin Wilson (groin) and J.D. Hamilton (ankle) both were back in maroon shirts and alternating at left tackle. Hamilton went first but Wilson played more snaps. Fullback Casey Rogers (shoulder) also returned to duty.

Those held out in red-crosses were running back Derek Ambrose (hamstring), linebacker Gabe O'Neal (shoulder), receiver Ryan Mason (thigh), corner/safety Demario Bobo (hamstring), tackle Roland Terry (back), and tight end Brandon Jones-Henderson (hamstring).

And by the time the drills ended three more Dogs were hurting and slow off the field, most notably Prosser. He ran with the first unit at flanker but on the second series went down hard on his left shoulder and was later wearing a sling on that side. Second-team linebacker Jamon Hughes appeared to hurt a hamstring as he left with an icepack on that back-thigh, and backup defensive end Rodney Prince appeared to hurt his right leg.

For the scrimmage, Titus Brown returned to first-team defensive end after missing some midweek days for a family situation. Charles Burns is still in first-unit white and alternating with Brown at end, with the first tackles still Deljuan Robinson and Andrew Powell. The second D-line was ends Burns and Avery Hannibal and tackles Quinton Wesley and Antonio Johnson. Freshmen J. C. Brignone and Reggie Odom were the third-team tackles with also freshmen Prince, until he hurt a leg, and Brandon Cooper at ends.

Croom had nothing new to say about the admissions status of either the un-cleared freshmen, receiver Alex Carpenter and back Courtney Jones, or of the waivers on Ducre and tackle Mike Brown.

The Bulldog players have Sunday-off to prepare for the next week of camp. The coaches will be working, running through the scrimmage video and getting health updates. Practice resumes Monday morning and it won't be surprising to see some adjustments made based on scrimmage performances. "At least we know what we've got to work on," Croom said.

"We've got to get stable in the offensive line, a couple of guys have to get healthy. But there are a couple of guys that I have serious questions about what the game means to them. But that's OK, we'll find five that really want to play the game and we'll get them ready. We'll be OK. I'm not worried about us. We'll find the guys who can go, get them rested and in shape and they'll play against South Carolina."

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