Croom Press Conference Transcript

Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom talks about his upcoming opponent, Auburn, and his football team during Tuesday afternoon's football press conference.

Opening Statement:

About Auburn:
"We are playing a very good football team. They had an excellent victory over Washington State. They don't seem to change much from year to year. They have talent and they have experience. It will be a great challenge for us going into this ballgame."

About the South Carolina loss:
"We played very well defensively. We had (defensive) guys like Jeramie Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Quinton Culberson and Jamar Chaney who had exceptional ball games. I think the entire defense played well. I was pleased that we had no pre-snap penalties. I think we had one penalty for the ballgame which was a holding call on (center) Royce Blackledge. In reality, I thought it was a bad call because he really wasn't holding. He just got run over.

"I was disappointed about the injury to Mike (Henig), but that's part of the game. We'll move on. I thought that (quarterback) Tray (Rutland) did a commendable job under the circumstances that he came into the ball game. He'll be our starting quarterback going into this game. Omarr Conner will be our backup. Omarr will work some at wide receiver and also at quarterbacks. He'll spend most of (Tuesday) at quarterback and (Wednesday) he'll resume a lot of his role as a wide receiver. I thought the kicking game was good except for the missed field goal. (Adam) Carlson will continue being our kicker. Sometimes he's a mystery because he does have talent. He just has to get his form down and be a lot more consistent. He's very capable of being an excellent kicker. I thought our coverage and protection units were far better than last year."


Talk about Auburn's Kenny Irons.
"He is an excellent runner. He has excellent vision and speed. If you overrun him, it's out the gate. When we played them last year, he wasn't playing. Irons gives them a dimension that they didn't have when we played them early in the year last year. It allowed us to be in that ball game when we really weren't as a good football team as they were."

Expand on Auburn's offense and defense.
"Looking at their offense, the thing that attracts me when I first look at Auburn is their offensive line. It's always an impressive unit. I think they have three seniors, a junior and some young guys. Even though their defense gets all the credit, I really think their offensive line is the strength of their football team. That allows them to run the football and eat up the clock. Irons is a strength. Their quarterback is a strength. They aren't throwing the football as much. They have become a running team, although we don't know if they will continue to do that this week.

"Defensively, they haven't changed a whole lot there, either. They have guys like Quentin Groves who are excellent pass-rushers. Their corners are good. They play a lot of man to man coverage. All in all, I don't see any obvious weaknesses."

What changes will you make in your offensive game now that Rutland will be the starter?
"There will be a couple of things we already had in in case Tray ever became the quarterback, but we aren't going to make a bunch of wholesale changes. More than anything else, we have been studying the film and trying to make sure what we ask him to do in the gameplan, it's down to things he truly does have a thorough knowledge of and he's comfortable with."

What are the positive qualities Tray brings to the quarterback position? And what are some things he still needs to work on?
"First of all, Tray can throw the football. That is pretty obvious. He has a very good arm. The velocity, his release, his footwork, he gets away from the line of scrimmage. He's big and tall and moves around so that he can avoid the pass-rush. He also studies the game very well. Even though I have been frustrated with him, I know he prepares in the offseason. He's over there all summer long studying film every night. He's got a notebook this thick (holds fingers about three inches apart) on notes he makes as far as his game preparation. He does what he needs to do in the classroom. Sometimes it hasn't come out in practice quite as fast and readily. But I know what it is, he's simply inexperienced. This spring was really his first time that he had reps on the things that we were running offensively. He spent the entire fall last year on the scout team.

"The thing in practice that has bothered me sometimes in the past is the consistency with his reads and a little bit of quirk in his throwing motion sometimes. But there are a lot of guys playing on Sunday that still have those quirks and they get paid a lot of money to do it. And not a whole lot of them have any more ball speed than Tray has."

Since Tray is still a redshirt freshman and only has one game under his belt, how worried are you about mistakes that he may make?
"I'm not worried about Tray Rutland as much as I am about some of the others right now. Everybody else is worried about Tray. I'm not worried about him at all. I'm worried about some guys who made mistakes the other night on things we have being doing since spring practice. And for some of them, a little bit longer than that. Those guys have to step up their game."

You mentioned that Omarr will be your backup quarterback. Will he be the starting wide receiver for this game?
"It is yet to be determine, but probably not. He will have a role in our third down package."

How much time does the backup quarterback get in practice?
"I would say about 70/30. Tray will get the bulk of the work. There's no question about that."

After looking at the game film, what are your thoughts about the play of freshman running back Anthony Dixon?
"The talent, as far as his running skills, are obvious. The details are what he has to get down; alignments, steps, reads, protections, all those little things that go into making a good running back. He left a lot of yardage out there because he missed some holes. That was due to his steps not being right. If your steps aren't right, it won't allow you to see because it cuts your field of vision in half. It's not just taking the football and running with it. It's going to take some time for that to come. It takes guys in the pros a while to learn it."

How much did it hurt linebacker Gabe O'Neal missing so much practice time during the training camp?
"Mentally, it doesn't hurt Gabe quite as much because he is a smart player. But nobody can miss practice and be as sharp as they would be. It is impossible."

Talk about running back Christian Ducre being ruled eligible to play.
"We are glad he can play. But with all the lost time, we have to work him in special teams and give him a little work."

How did offensive tackles Craig Jenkins and J.D. Hamilton do during the South Carolina game?
"Craig played very well. You go back to the history of Craig. Craig was a fatboy last year. He came in here last year as a freshman weighing almost 340 pounds. He worked extremely hard last spring and got his weight down. Then he came back this fall heavy again. And it took the entire training camp to finally get the weight down so that he could move. And that was very evident Thursday night. His pass-protection was much better. He's a real big man, but he has to minimize his weight so that he has that extra step in getting out of his stance to pass-protect. He's never had a problem in the running game. He's very aggressive and nasty in the running game. And probably from an aggression standpoint, he's one of the most aggressive offensive linemen that we have.

"J.D. did some good things. He's still not totally comfortable with some of the assignments, yet. But he didn't go through the spring. Then, when he got here, he missed a lot of work with an ankle injury. And then we had to flip him from the left side to the right side and back and forth due to other injuries in the offensive line. Now, we are back where we started. He's at left tackle and Craig's at right, Strauder's at left guard, Royce is at center and Anderson is at right guard. That's where we wanted to be when the season started. But injuries and a lack of condition on Craig's part dictated otherwise. If we can keep that group healthy I think we can be a good offensive line. Even Thursday night we were a whole lot better there than we were at this time last year. We didn't get beat physically in the run game or the pass game; we had some missed assignments. I keep saying inexperience, but that's the reality of it. Both of our tackles were brand new at this level."

What is the attitude of this team compared to your first two teams?
"The thing about this team that was impressive is that they are a more disciplined team. We only had one penalty. They tried to draw us offsides on three occasions. And we didn't jump. That is a long way for this football team (to come). That has been something that people have taken advantage of in the past because we are an aggressive football team. We are rushing the passer almost every snap and playing the run on the move. The other thing that is not seen very easily was that Michael Heard was held all night. In the past, we would have had a serious problem. We would have had to take Mike out of the ball game for a time to rest him because he wouldn't have responded very well to that. He communicated very well with the official and didn't let it bother him. That is a big improvement from a discipline standpoint. There was no lack of effort anywhere in the ball game. One of the most impressive things in the game was our speed on kickoffs and the aggressiveness with how we covered the kickoff.

"One of the things we asked our players to do was take a one-play mentality on every kicking situation in every ball game. The offense has to start approaching every play like it will be the ball game because it is. You never know. We had an opportunity come up the other night in the ball game that we might not have expected. They had a blown coverage where Tony Burks was wide open for a touchdown. The quarterback saw him, but we had a missed assignment inside and we can't get him the football. We should have had that touchdown."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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