Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

LIVE AND ON-AIR: The preparations are essentially complete, the lineups settled, gameplans installed, and even areas of campus already moving into game-day status. So, says Coach Sylvester Croom, "Now it's time to go play and it's pretty much over for the talking."

Actually there will be plenty of talking before, during, and after Mississippi State and Louisiana State meet on Scott Field for the 2007 Southeastern Conference lid-lifter. Game time is 7:00 Thursday evening with national telecast by ESPN…and network personnel are already arriving to set up. A portion of their three-hour Wednesday evening telecast, for the start of the college football season, will originate from outside Scott Field with the game broadcast crew.

The broadcasting actually begins at 5:00 am (CT) Wednesday as XM satellite radio airs its two-hour morning show from the Junction. The same show will also be aired from campus Friday morning, while Thursday XM will have a noon-to-2:00 national kickoff countdown show. When the Bulldogs and Tigers meet, it will be the first SEC football game to air on the satellite service. The Mississippi State broadcast will be on both channels 199 and 144, while LSU's version will be on 200.

THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, ROUND II: This is the second-straight season Mississippi State has opened on a Thursday, and hosting a SEC opponent for national television. In 2006 the coaching staff used anticipation for the debut with South Carolina as added motivation for spring, summer, and pre-season work. After the season Croom said in retrospect maybe too much emphasis was placed on the first game, as the defeat—and loss of starting quarterback Mike Henig—sent the team into a month-long tailspin.

The coach doesn't go into this '07 opener, similar in every aspect save that LSU is a far better foe than the '06 Gamecocks were, fearing the same outcome. Because, Croom said, this team is not the same. For one thing these Bulldogs are fresher, having limited the contact since spring to essentially a couple of scrimmages. In fact there were very few days in full pads, period.

"In spring they had a lot of good contact. We saw the attitude about contact and backed off, we really wanted to make sure we were rested." Also, this August there were far fewer lineup questions to be settled; spring had answered most of those as well.

"The other thing is these guys are just a little bit different. When you know who your guys are there's a little bit more of a trust factor." That was shown, Croom said, in how the players worked in the summer even when not ordered to or supervised. So other than the inevitable August injuries—and few of these were serious—this has been a less-stressful preseason without dampening the sort of intensity needed to prepare properly.

"We're enthusiastic and ready to go into this game," Croom said. "We hope that will pay off. And even thought this is an extremely big game for us, we put a lot more emphasis on the South Carolina game for momentum going into the season. This preparation has been more about us than about LSU."

Asked if he liked opening up another season with a SEC opponent, much less a national contender, Croom managed a grin. "I like opening up with a win!"

INJURY UPDATES: Only two injured players are definitely out of the opener; PK Eric Richards (broken foot) and DE Charles Burns (labrum tear), both of whom have had surgery. Croom said starting WR Lance Long (turf toe) is a concern but will do some work at today's practice. And backup DE Brandon Cooper (leg) is also questionable; he will be tested at practice also. "Everybody else is ready to go."

Cooper came to Tuesday practice in limited-purple, while Long and TEs Dezmond Sherrod and Brandon Henderson were both in limited-yellow worn by offensive players. Long was practicing in the eight-man receiver rotation.

The only red-cross player today was WR Ryan Mason.

DE Tim Bailey, in purple for almost two weeks, was promoted to varsity-maroon today.

GOT HIS VOTE: Croom is a voting member of the coach's poll, in which LSU is ranked second nationally. The individual votes are not made public until the last of the season, and Croom wasn't telling where he voted the Tigers to start the season. "I had them pretty high!" was all he would admit.

NEW JOB, MORE OPPORTUNITY: A year ago Derek Pegues got his first collegiate touchdown in the second half at Baton Rouge, intercepting a throw and returning it 23 yards. That was as the left cornerback. Now after two years on a corner the junior will line up at free safety against LSU, covering the entire defensive secondary. Pegues has had no troubles with the transition, made not just to utilize his aptitude but his attitude about the game.

"One of the key reasons we moved Derek back there was to have a guy who can make some big plays against the run and in the passing game," Croom said, adding "And to communicate and coordinate in the secondary. He has a quarterback ego." That prep experience allows Pegues a little more insight into what the other offense is doing. And at safety he can put it to fuller use with the whole defense "He also has that ‘field generalship' and the ability to communicate back there."

ON THE LINE: The only real lineup questions at this point, other than how much the gimpy wideouts factor into that rotation, is the interior defensive line. A month of camp has not seen any pairing of tackles just step out of the pack and lock down those two spots, though minor ailments for candidates like Kyle Love and LaMarcus Williams were clearly a factor.

Croom said that the two who have been running first-team the past week, LT Cortez McCraney and RT Jessie Bowman, will indeed start. Love and Quinton Wesley are their seconds, respectively, and freshman Williams is next in line. This was Croom's area of most concern going into spring and while there are some promising big bodies to work with the practice results have varied widely from day to day.

"The inconsistency is still there. But we've got four and hopefully six guys there, and we hope we can be efficient in there."

SPECIAL TEAMS, SPECIAL DUTY: Since the freshmen class arrived—most of it in July—Croom has projected that several would be able to contribute on special teams. They still might as the season develops, but as of now the coaching staff is leaning towards using veterans in this area where Mississippi State was usually overmatched in 2006. Does this mean starters might stay on the field when it comes time to kick or catch?

"No doubt. We're going to put our best people out there." Though, he adds, "We've tried to establish a two-deep and even a three-deep so we don't have a drop-off." So State is developing non-starters for coverage and return duties to limit demands on the regulars…in time. For now, it's a matter of stressing just how much difference these plays make. "And we've been addressing the players about the attitude, that this is not a ‘rest' play. Our best people (will be) in every area of the kicking game. Some of them are dressing simply because of the job they do in the kicking game."

CLOSE CALL: Speaking of specialists, a half-hour prior to Tuesday's practice both placekickers—Adam Carlson and walk-on Brad Moore—ran from the Shira Complex to their cars to roll up windows as a rain shower hit campus. As they crossed the street a white van halted just in time on the wet asphalt; otherwise the kicking depth chart might have seen another abrupt change.

Lightning in the area made practice move indoors Tuesday.

DUCATS STILL MOVING: As of Tuesday afternoon Mississippi State reported 30,706 season tickets had been sold. This surpasses the total sales for the 2006 season, and '07 season tickets are being sold through the LSU game.


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