Henig: "I Feel Like A Different Quarterback"

Well, no one can accuse Mike Henig of trying to keep a low profile this weekend. At least not for part of the route as he drives home to Montgomery, to enjoy this open date. "I'm going to have my Mississippi State flags when I'm going through Tuscaloosa!" the Bulldog quarterback said.

And why not? Who has better right to flaunt the flag and show the colors? As he wends his way back home Henig will pass near the site of his—and Mississippi State's—signature event of this 2006 season. Of course the locals might call it a crime scene, but there's no debating that the Bulldogs earned their 24-16 victory at Alabama.

Or, that the afternoon in Tuscaloosa was a turning point for the third-year sophomore quarterback. It was not his best statistical game of the year; 9-of-23 passing for 143 yards and an unnecessary interception that turned into Alabama's only touchdown. But Henig overcame that error with two touchdown tosses to Bulldog teammates, the second coming right after his gaffe.

More important than the numbers was the outcome and what it said about both the Bulldogs and their offensive triggerman. State shook off a five-game league losing streak, as well as consecutive three-point setbacks, to dominate their West Division rival practically start-to-finish. And Henig himself?

"I feel like a completely different quarterback," he says.

Winning does that, of course. But so does coming back from injury and playing better than ever. "It's kind of weird," Henig says. "I feel like I've grown up so much the last four weeks." This, the numbers do back up. Since returning from his opening-night injury Henig has thrown for 1,059 yards and completed 48%. And while he's been picked-off six times, he also has thrown for six touchdowns which is real progress in this case.

Even the body language out there on the field is different. With good reason, he says. "It's just when I go out there I'm as calm as I was playing high school ball. I feel like I'm a SEC quarterback now, that's what feels good."

Henig wasn't feeling nearly so fine the first night of this season. Actually, after his first offensive snap of 2006 he wasn't feeling much of anything, having taken a hard, straight shot to the face from a South Carolina blitzer.

"I was woozy but I kept going," he recalls. "It hurt!" Only later did anyone realize Henig had suffered a first-play concussion; it was a later tackle breaking the left collarbone that sidelined him for the second half and four more games.

Interestingly, he says it wasn't the most painful blow he's had as a Bulldog quarterback. Arkansas put it on Henig last November in Little Rock. "And the Vanderbilt game my first year, my first play in as a SEC quarterback, that #4…he was a big guy." There's something about these first-snaps with Henig, it seems.

Happily the fracture healed quickly and Henig was cleared for action again by October. Even better, the mind was entirely clear and he was ready to get his soph season truly started. When comrade QB Omarr Conner went down with a groin strain against West Virginia, Henig jumped back into the huddle as if he hadn't missed a week.

"I got in and I felt comfortable, I did good things and made good reads." The reads looked even better when Henig threw for 234 yards at Georgia and 384 more against Kentucky. "You can see that I've matured as a quarterback and things are starting go to good for me." Including things like having some improved targets to throw at. The development of receivers Tony Burks, Jamayel Smith, and Aubrey Bell has brought needed variety to the MSU passing attack and Henig has been the right thrower to utilize them.

"Like Coach (Woody) McCorvey said, we've got a couple of go-to guys. And having an offensive line playing as well as they're playing, I think they've given up four or five sacks in the last four games and I can live with that."

The Bulldog offense can certainly live with a healthy Henig calling the cadence. He says that the performance since his return has given teammates faith he can get the job done now. "But I'm sure there are people out there that I have to prove it to. And I like to play like I've got to prove it to everybody, I've got to prove it to fans of the other team as well!" Such as fans of league-leading Arkansas, who will come to campus next week expecting to pick on the passer just as a year ago. Henig says don't count on that type of repeat-performance, from either side of the ball.

"You can see the difference between our team last year and this year."

Meanwhile, Henig has his own different look at the moment, and not just from either a well-earned victory or much-needed open date. For one thing, he's let the beard go lately. "Just lazy, I guess. Getting ready for hunting season." Before that, though, he has a more important season to conclude. But for a couple of days Henig can let loose as he heads home…with a personal detour along the way.

"I'm going to ride through (the Alabama) campus!" he laughs. "Then I'm going home to see my grandmother and eat good. And I think I'm going to the Auburn-Georgia game."

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