Offense Puts Up Spring Game Points

They were the same tunes Coach Sylvester Croom has sounded about every spring game with Mississippi State: satisfaction another camp is done, and relief no Bulldog was added to the injury list. "That's the main thing," he said. Maybe for him and the staff that was true. But for those watching, this year's edition of the annual Maroon-White scrimmage had another, newer, and brighter theme: offense.

Bulldog quarterbacks Mike Henig and Josh Riddell combined for three touchdown passes as the Maroons, made up of the first offense and defense, defeated the White squad of backups and reserves 21-0 Saturday afternoon. The scrimmage was observed by an estimated 5,200 at Scott Field and will be televised on replay by CSS next week.

The affair lasted 1:04, by design with 12-minute quarters and as few halts as possible. And if not for a few timeouts called by the Maroon staff just before halftime it wouldn't have broken an hour. Still there was sufficient time for the spring-starters to put on a short show of firepower, a marked change from the previous two years when State's offense scored once in 2005 and not at all in '07.

"I thought we did some good things out there," Croom said. "It's obvious Mike Henig and Josh Riddell both did some good things."

Number-one quarterback Henig did the most, throwing 7-of-14 against the second defense for 113 yards and three touchdowns. Another of his deep tosses should have been scored but was dropped at the goal line, and yet another was broken up in the end zone. Henig's first pass of the day went for 45 yards into the red zone, and three snaps later he hit tight end Dezmond Sherrod on a swing-out pattern for a 19-yard touchdown.

In the second quarter Henig hooked up with halfback Anthony Dixon for a six-yard touchdown. And on the last play of the half it took some good hand-work by cornerback Tay Bowser to knock the ball free from wideout Brandon McRae a step inside the goal line. It didn't spoil the theme of the day for the fourth-year junior after his best spring game to-date.

"Last year we came out and played around a little bit," said Henig. "But we had a good crowd out here today and we wanted to show them what to look forward too. I think we did that."

Riddell, the spring junior college transfer, got to run the first offense the whole second half. He only completed one of his six throws, but it was the one that counted as Riddell found wideout Jamayel Smith on a deep corner route behind cornerback Keon Humphries for a 39-yard touchdown.

Zack Harrington quarterbacked the second-team offense for all but one series, always working against the varsity defense. He was five-of-nine for just 37 yards and whistle-sacked three times. All those baggings came from #1 defensive ends with Avery Hannibal getting a hand on the passer twice and Titus Brown once. Linebacker Gabe O'Neal and newly-converted tackle Charles Burns tied for game-high stops at five tackles each.

Smith was game-high receiver with three grabs and 93 yards while McRae had two catches and 26 yards. Halfback Justin Williams, splitting snaps with starter Dixon, had another first-team catch for eight yards. For the Whites, Tyler Threadgill caught two balls for 15 yards while Tony Burks, Ben Shelton, and walk-on Patrick Franks had one catch each. So did #3 halfback Arnil Stallworth.

Dixon carried the ball five times in the first half for 17 yards and Williams seven times in the second for 19. The longest ground-gainer of the day though was wideout Bell, who turned a reverse into 27 yards. No White back had positive yardage rushing; Christian Ducre was closest losing just two net yards on three rushes.

The game had no kickoff plays, something State did not practice in spring. That is a focus of fall camp when the new crop of rookies arrive. There was punting, with one of those plays producing the loudest noise of the day both on and off the field. With #1 returner Derek Pegues cutting left safety De'Mon Glanton, playing on the return side, got an angle and blind-sided cover man Shelton. The blow knocked Glanton's helmet free but it was Shelton who had to be helped off.

The replay was shown at least a half-dozen times during the delay, and Glanton said he didn't feel bad for taking advantage of a teammate. "That's what a spring game is for!" he laughed. "I let up on him a little bit, he said he was alright."

Quotes from Coach Croom, his coordinators, and selected players follow.

HEAD COACH SYLVESTER CROOM: "This concludes spring practice and I'm excited because we didn't get anybody hurt today. That's the main thing."

"I thought we did some good things out there. It's obvious Mike Henig and Josh Riddell both did some good things. Mike is expected to do well, he's had a good spring, he's our starting quarterback."

"I think Josh has done a tremendous job as far as getting himself acclimated first of all. Coming in from the West Coast, getting acclimated to living in the South, a new school, learning a new offense. Especially since we've got the entire playbook open right now I think he has done a tremendous job as far as learning the offense. Now that we've got things narrowed down we're getting ready for exactly what we're going to do for training camp, getting our playbooks ready. That will give Josh something to lock in on, sink his teeth in before we get back in August."

"We've improved tremendously over where we were at this point last year. Now, where are we going to be in August? We've got a lot of improving to do. I told our players what they do between that last whistle this spring game and the day we come back August 1 will determine what kind of season we have. We've got a lot of conditioning to do. They know what plays we're going to run, they've got a lot of things they can do on their own. How much they improve on their own between now and August 1 will determine our season. The potential is there to do some good things. How good I don't know because I don't know exactly how good are the other teams in our conference. But I know we're a lot better than we have been."

"We leave spring practice with a very positive attitude about what we've done and what we can be. But basically potential is unused talent. We've got to use that. We've got to get every ounce out of every guy on our squad, from the last walk-on to our best players on offense and defense."

The summer priorities: "We start with toughness, mentally and physically. That means our strength coach takes over in the off-season program. That's the first thing. We've got to get stronger. We've got to get quicker and faster. We've got about eight, ten guys who have got to get their weight down. We're going to have three different reporting dates, they're going to have a weight for the first day of summer school, for the second semester of summer school, and a weight they have to be at the first day of practice. I expect them to take a lot of pride in getting that done. If they want to be champions they'll get it done."

Where has Henig improved most: "The first thing is he's gained some weight…probably too much, we've got to get him back down to 195. But the thing that Mike has, he throws the ball extremely well. He's improved on his drops, he's improved on his ball mechanics. Time and repetition has allowed him to have a better understanding of the offense, and also understanding coverages in the defense. We set it up, he's got a computer and a video deal where we've enabled him to study on his own in the off-season in understanding coverages and what the other team is doing. Understanding the game as far as field position and what we expect to get out of certain plays, the different concepts on how to play with one another and complement each other. That can only come with repetition and time but he has a better understanding of that."

On defensive leaders: "Titus Brown and Jamar Chaney are the keys. Titus gives us a guy up-front who is an anchor and a very good pass rusher. And you've got to be strong down the middle and Chaney and Derek Pegues give us that. These young defensive tackles, I don't know who is going to start but whoever emerges out of that bunch we should be in pretty good shape. Avery Hannibal is a guy who will go unnoticed but I think we'll be more productive at that position. He'll be our right defensive end. And he's had a tremendous spring."

"I think we're pretty good on our corners. They had too many interference penalties but I like their aggressiveness. So I think that's a positive for us."

The defensive tackles: "I think we've got the people there. We have the numbers and the talent there to improve. We're young, we're very young there. What has happened is we've got more numbers at tackle but fewer numbers at defensive end than I thought, which puts a premium on a guy like Jimmie Holmes and possibly even K.J. Wright, who we recruited as a linebacker but we may need—particularly if he hits another growth spurt which I hope he does—to start him out at end. Because he can play both, he told me he could play both. If he goes to defensive end he's #2 on the depth chart today."

Dixon and running back depth: "We feel good about Dixon. We're solid at running back, and when Marcus Green and Robert Elliot come in they're going to change the whole landscape. Because we think Marcus and Rob will give us some explosive speed we don't have at the position. Whoever it turns out, our top four running backs are going to be pretty good."

A deeper offensive line?: "Yeah, we've got eight guys that we feel we can play with. Where this time last year we had two."

Special teams: "We've definitely improved there. We still have a lot of improving to do. The young kids coming in will help us out there, but our kickers and our punters are doing a lot better."

Changing the culture at Mississippi State: "We're definitely moving in that direction, as far as our attitude about ourselves and believing in ourselves. And also the mentality and identity we need to have. We want to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical, disciplined football team. we want to be a team that plays for 60 minutes and plays together as a team. You have to have some talent but those intangible things come first."

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR ELLIS JOHNSON: "We've definitely made progress. But we've still got a lot of things we've got to improve on at some critical positions where we lost some older guys."

Position moves this spring: "The most obvious was Derek Pegues. Last year we were so thin in the secondary, he was not the best corner but the best guy we had to put at that corner. We only had about five guys last year with the experience and ability to play on Saturday. I tell you it got thin, if we had to go six we were really stretching it. Derek is a play-maker, he's a good contact guy. He's smart, heady. He just wasn't at home at corner."

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR WOODY MCCORVEY: "Mike Henig has made a lot of progress. He's only had nine starts really since he's been here so it was important this spring that we get out there and get some things solidified with him. I feel he did that, he made a lot of strides in terms of throwing the football and the passing game. He's really confident now in this offense, and he should be because this is his fourth year in it. He should be confident. But I'm really pleased with Mike and where he is, how he started out spring practice and how he finished it."

"Josh Riddell, the thing we needed with him was to establish a backup quarterback. It's good that he was able to come in this spring and be able to go through practice and get acclimated to the terminology and everything that we're doing. It's good that we got him because with Tray Rutland not being here at least it gives us a guy who has had some game experience, even though it's junior college experience. He really feels comfortable out there, now we know what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are, it gives us a chance to work on those in the off-season. Then when we come back this fall during camp we can build things around what he does good."

"The biggest thing is Mike feels comfortable behind his line. We've got some guys who have played a lot of games, and a lot of games in the SEC. So he feels comfortable now back there in the pocket with those guys in front of him."

"Now you've got a weapon sitting back there in Anthony Dixon that gives you a good, solid back in the running game. A big, physical runner. But the receivers and the tight ends, we've got a good complement of guys there. I really feel good about our tight ends, all of those guys can get in there and play and give us some help. And with the addition of Jeremy Jones at fullback, with Tony Burks and Jamayel Smith, and Aubrey Bell, and Lance Long, and all those guys outside. And with Brandon McRae coming in, that's a bit plus."

"I see the excitement in Mike, he's talking about next week wanting to get back out there and keep throwing. The excitement is there and no doubt it's about those guys around him."

On wide receiver depth: "The first year it was terrible. I look back and McKinley Scott was the most dependable guy we had. And a guy like Omarr, you put him there and he'd been a quarterback. He gave us some production. But now you've got a complement of guys and all of them have their own roles. No doubt this is the best we've been."

"When you bring those guys in that gives you that speed. But a lot of people don't know, Anthony Dixon when he gets in the secondary… What impressed me was that run he had against Arkansas, he showed he can take it the distance. But those other guys are going to be able to give you that speed we missed when Norwood left."

"I hope we have some good times when we talk next fall after games!"

QUARTERBACK MIKE HENIG: "I got more comfortable in the system. I wanted to get Josh Riddle ready, just in case something was to happen. He's ready and knows what he's doing. And I think I just stepped up as a leader."

On the wide receivers: "We threw a lot of balls today, that's one thing I think we're going to be pretty good at in this offense. I think we've got the guys to go get the ball and make plays. That's what we did today and it's fun."

Difference between 2006 and 2007 spring games for the offense: "Last year we came out and played around a little bit. But we had a good crowd out here today and we wanted to show them what to look forward too. I think we did that."

On his personal video instruction system: "It's really just a film study thing. It the same thing we use in the Fieldhouse. I get film from every practice and every game and sit there and look at it a lot. If I have any questions that's what I go to."

"Josh has completely changed, he's a new person now. He knows our team and all our sets and everything. That's another thing we're going to work on when we get back out there Tuesday and start our seven-on-seven. He'll be a good backup."

"I thought our defense looked good. We lost a bunch of guys that were key players and our defense came through."

WIDE RECEIVER BRANDON MCRAE: "We've been working on the deep ball a lot. We got to the point the coaches trust us that we're going to make those plays, that's why we were airing it out. And we're going to air it out a lot more."

"It was fun today. Like Coach said, we've got a lot more players to contribute and we're out there having fun."

Improvement from the second scrimmage: "Last week I guess I guess my mind wasn't there. But this week I played good, it was a good atmosphere and I loved it."

"I'm just learning and trying to do my thing. I just want to play ball and do what God gave me to do. I'm working hard this summer."

WIDE RECEIVER JAMAYEL SMITH: "I feel like the hard work is paying off and I'm producing."

"The coaches have faith in us. We feel we have a strong receiver corps this year and they just feel comfortable with us. That's what it's going to take for us to be a good corps."

"I've got to improve on my routes and work with the quarterback to make sure we're on the same page when we play LSU."

On Henig: "He feels comfortable with all the receivers since we've been working hard."

"We have so much depth it makes each one of us better because we go out and work hard and make each other better. And if one of us needs help everybody helps."

DEFENSIVE END TITUS BROWN: "We have a lot of guys who can run. We moved Derek Pegues to the safety position, we moved Jamar to middle of the defense. They're both fast and have a nose for the ball. That's going to be good for our defense."

On the rebuilt defensive line: "I know those guys. I know Kyle Love, I know Jessie Bowman, I know Quinton Wesley. I know those guys are going to step up and do the same things like Deljuan Robinson, Antonio Johnson, and Andrew Powell, the guys last year did. They have the potential to do it and I think they will do it. We'll have no drop-off at the tackle position in my opinion."

SAFETY DEMON GLANTON: His hit on Ben Shelton: "That's what a spring game is for! I let up on him a little bit, he said he was alright."

"We've got to play more aggressive a special teams. Last year we lost a lot of games because of special teams so we're getting better at that. We're trying to put more importance on it because we need the special teams to win games too. Not just offense and defense, but special teams, too."

On the improved strength and speed of this roster: "I think a far as athletic-wise we're a little better than last year. Speed, we're a lot ahead because we've got a lot of speed in the secondary. We should be alright this year."

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