Rutland: Calm Under Pressure

Before entering Thursday's season-opener against South Carolina, Tray Rutland heard the usual advice from his teammates. The redshirt freshman quarterback was told not to be nervous and to watch for the speed of the game. But when Rutland took over for Mike Henig, who suffered a broken collarbone against South Carolina, he felt just the opposite.

"Believe it or not, I was not nervous and I was comfortable," said Rutland of his first college snap. "I felt like this was my place and just worried about making a good throw on that first play that was called.

"Playing that early will help me, though. I didn't feel like the speed of the game has changed any. People kept asking me about the speed of the game and the difference from high school. But it felt like it was in slow motion to me. I know it will be much faster this week and I am preparing for it."

And it was obvious that Mississippi State head coach Sylvester Croom and his staff had confidence in Rutland from the get-go.

Rutland's first play from scrimmage was a cross corner route, or the XCo play, where Keon Humphries broke free down the left sideline as Rutland tossed a seemingly catchable football on his initial college pass.

"That's my style of play," said Rutland. "I tried to get the touchdown and that's one of our strong plays. Hopefully, next time it will work. I wasn't surprised that we went deep on my first play.

"Keon beat the corner and beat the safety with a big head fake. Unfortunately we couldn't haul it in. Like I said, next time we will get it and I told him to keep his head up because I will come right back to him."

Of course, come Saturday the scene will be different. Rutland makes his starting debut against second-ranked Auburn and is no longer the back-up quarterback holding the clipboard on the sideline.

"I just have to come with a focused mind now," said Rutland. "I am not the backup anymore so I have to be the leader of this team and handle my new leadership role."

And to say Rutland has handled the recent turn of events with poise and calm would be an understatement.

First and foremost, he's concerned about Henig's injury and hated to see him go down against South Carolina.

"I saw the play," said Rutland. "The D-lineman cane right up the gut and rolled up on his shoulder. It was a bad feeling for the team but we will stay with Mike and hope he recovers."

But he also knows he can't worry about the past, especially with the Auburn Tigers staring him down this weekend at Davis-Wade Stadium.

"It's a bad thing to happen to Mike," said Rutland. "It was the first game and he may miss the rest of the season. But you can't worry about that. You have to keep going on and working hard every play."

However, Rutland has continued to get advice from Henig and former starting quarterback Omarr Conner, who will play receiver and be the back-up quarterback as well on Saturday.

"I have the utmost respect for Henig and Omarr," said Rutland. "Ever since I have been here they have been working with me, preparing me as I've been helping them prepare as well. They are 100 percent behind me and that means a lot to me."

Not to mention having the respect and confidence from Croom and offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey.

"There are some things that Tray is comfortable with and I expect him to prepare well and do a good job," said Croom. "I was real pleased with his composure. There are some things we won't ask him to do and there are some things we will. But he brings some things to the table, and he brings mobility. But we won't make any wholesale changes, and that's for sure.

"There are some things he does that Mike didn't do and some things that Mike did do. We will ask him to be Tray Rutland and nobody else."

And naturally, there will be mistakes to be made by Rutland as with any freshmen in the SEC, particularly those having the privilege to line up under center as a freshmen.

"I threw an interception when I tried to force it," said Rutland of one play he wished he could take back. "I wish I had it back but I can't. I just take it as a learning experience and work on getting better."

Rutland has worked on getting better since the spring. Sure, Auburn's front seven will present new challenges for the 6-foot-1 and 220-pound Rutland. But he also sees a pretty good defensive line in practice.

"I am glad I have our defensive line to go against to prepare me for this," said Rutland. "They are one of the best in the nation and facing them every day makes you so much better. I am so glad we have those guys up front and they played great against South Carolina and kept us in the game. Now we have to do our part and help out."

Rutland will also face a school that was interested in him when he was being recruited out of Tri Cities High School in Decatur, Ga.

Before a hamstring injury cut his senior season short, Auburn was one of many schools recruiting Rutland.

"Auburn was in the mix (in recruiting)," said Rutland. "(But) a lot of teams backed off me once I hurt my hamstring my senior year but not Mississippi State."

And once Rutland's hamstring healed, he knew exactly where he would take his next quarterback snap - Mississippi State. And he's happy with his choice.

"I am proud to be at Mississippi State and playing for Coach Croom," said Rutland.

Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at

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