The Green Wave is expected to run one of the many variations of what is generally called the ‘west coast' offense. But not so much like the one Mississippi State tries to run; Croom compares it to another SEC school's scheme. "They do a lot of things similar to Auburn. They have a lot of multiplicity there, a lot of different looks with quick passes and quick rhythms."
Lester Ricard, the TU quarterback who torched State last September, is no longer around. Running back Matt Forte is. His 2006 season was shortened to nine games by an injury but Forte was having a big year; and he ran through State for 170 yards in Tulane's 32-29 win at Scott Field.
"He's an excellent back," Croom said. "He has good speed, size, and good change of direction. He's one of those guys who can run over you but also make you miss." State can go back over a few other Wave players from last year, particularly on defense. Croom recalls their intensity a year ago. "They played with great emotion throughout the ball game. I expect them to play the same way this week."
*But Croom and the offensive staff definitely do not want to play the same way in game-two as they did in the opener…or not at one crucial position. Just as on Monday, the quarterback position dominated Tuesday questions. Mike Henig's struggles, headlined by the six interceptions, were key to how the LSU game played out. Croom has continued faith in the junior and affirms Henig's starting status daily.
What the head coach had to say this day was still more about the offense in general. The offensive line is very much improved—"That entire group played well especially considering the people they were up against"—while Bulldog runners and catchers, or catch-and-runners, have demonstrated their abilities both during practices, scrimmages, and at times in the opener against LSU's impressive defense. "We've definitely got more talent in our receivers, our backs, our offensive line," says Croom. How, then, will the Bulldogs put this talent to better use? Or why has it taken so long for the ‘west coast' offense to come to fruition?
"It's a combination of things," Croom acknowledges. But ultimately now it gets down to one thing, one position, as did the coach today. "As I re-evaluate, we've got to not put as many demands on the quarterback. There are things I feel we can do, that we can't."
Naturally he wasn't telling what things those are; but the implication is that Mississippi State is doing some serious re-evaluation of the play-book that was supposed to be opened all-the-way in this fourth season. "We're at the point now where things we are not doing well, we have to make some choices," was how Croom put it today.
"We've got to not turn the ball over, and execute. The things we haven't been able to execute, will be eliminated. No matter how good it looks in practice, if we can't execute it under pressure it will be eliminated."
*Of course Henig is not hardly being eliminated from any game-plans. Still, now that Josh Riddell is off team suspension, the backup is expected to get on the field Saturday evening. "We plan on playing him," Croom said. "But as for the time, I have in my mind but we're not going to reveal that." Not because he wants to keep Tulane guessing, the coach clarified; simply because he has learned not to announce ‘schedules' of substitutions because fans—even players—start watching the game clock. So, "The day of the game I'll probably go with gut instinct."
It's an easy association to say this re-evaluation of the gameplan comes at the same time a less-experienced quarterback is being readied to debut, too. Riddell, a winter transfer, was able to spend a spring practicing this system as well as the preseason, but is still far behind fourth-year junior Henig in how much of the playbook he's worked. Still Riddell has some different strong points, Croom says.
"He has the ability to create on the move. Josh has more of a ‘riverboat gambler' to him. He has that trait." And certainly it is easier to envision such gambling against a Tulane than the other Louisiana team a few miles' boat ride up the big river.
*As of today, Croom is restricting all State quarterbacks—players or not—as far as media access. Quarterbacks will not be interviewed after Monday; other players are available as late as Tuesday, when all media access ends until post-game. Croom said it is about getting these particular players focused on the week's work. "We figure whatever questions they do ask can be on Monday," he said. And both Henig and Riddell conducted multiple interviews following Monday's practice, so this was no hardship for reporters today.
*An obvious game-week story line is the return of HB Christian Ducre to his old school. Ducre signed with Tulane out of Fontainebleau High School in 2005 and redshirted as a true freshman; then after the chaos of that school year and events forced upon the New Orleans school he went looking for another place to go to college and play football. He found State.
"My first year I was kind of sad, now I've got all comfortable. It actually turned out better for me." The family agrees, even his father who played four years at Tulane. "He wanted me to leave."
Ducre transferred in summer '06 to Mississippi State but didn't get a waiver granted until the second week of the season. By then he was behind too far to really catch up with backs who'd practiced to play and seen game action. He participated in three games, all on special teams, in the first half of the year—against Auburn, Tulane, and LSU. Now, the sophomore from Mandeville is preparing to compete with his former program again.
"I'm just treating it like a normal game," Ducre claims. "But obviously I know players on the team from junior and up so it'll be fun playing in the game. Last year I just played kickoff, I should have a bigger role this year."
"I'm sure it's a big game for him, going back home and playing in his home state," Croom said. How much playing time Ducre gets is far from certain though. Anthony Dixon naturally has the starting job locked up, and Arnil Stallworth is better-suited so far to work in passing packages. He had a team-high three catches in the LSU game for 33 yards; Ducre caught two balls for two net yards, along with one carry for two yards.
Croom believes Ducre is capable of much bigger things but "He's a little bit perplexing to me at times. He's got size, he's got speed, he's got good hands." Yet for each good practice day, Ducre will follow with a sub-par afternoon. Croom still hopes the soph can show the sort of work-week consistency that will put him on the field more often.
"The most inconsistent thing I do is blocking," Ducre admits. "Since the game every day I practice my blocking."
He's had other pre-game concerns, specifically securing tickets for family and friends. As of now Ducre anticipates up to a 40-person ‘cheering section' in the Superdome. "We only get four tickets, but whoever is not using their tickets we get. I've got about 20-something so far." Not that too many are needed for his old high school buddies. "All of them go to LSU."
*Despite being a south Louisiana resident, the only time Ducre has played in the Superdome was as a 12-year-old. His redshirt freshman year was 2005 when the Dome was out of business.
Only one Bulldog dressed and participated in State's last game at the Superdome, in 2003. Then-freshman Tyler Threadgill was sent in for a kickoff return in the fourth quarter. It bounced through his legs for a touchback, and Threadgill received a redshirt off that lone '03 appearance. Current Dogs left from the 2003 roster (though they probably didn't dress for the game) were TEs Eric Butler, Dezmond Sherrod, Jason Husband, and DE Avery Hannibal.
Since most of MSU's travel roster are Dome-rookies, Croom said there will be a Friday walk-through at the game site. "We will leave here after a short practice, fly into New Orleans and go straight to the Superdome. All our players who have never seen the Dome, or New Orleans, can experience that so we can get that out of the way and get focused on the business at hand."