MSU-Auburn Press Conference Transcript

Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom talks about his team's upcoming opponent, Auburn, as well as thoughts about his own team.

Opening Statement:

"The first thing I want to do is congratulate Gabe O'Neal on being named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Gabe is having a very good year right now and it really started in the spring. He is playing the best football since he's been here.

"From our team awards for the Tulane game, Gabe was named our defensive player of the week. The offensive player of the week was Anthony Dixon. And special teams player of the week was Marcus Washington. And Derek Sherrod was our student of the week. Captains for the upcoming ballgame are Gabe O'Neal on defense, Lance Long on offense and Marcus Washington for special teams.

"Auburn is a very good football team despite the fact that they have struggled during their first two ballgames. They still have a lot of tradition and a lot of good athletes. They are fast on defense. Of course, their defense is led by Quentin Groves, probably one of the better pass-rushers in the country. And one of the best football players that we have seen in sometime On offense, Brandon Cox is their quarterback, a left-handed guy who has been managing their offense as a senior. At running back I read earlier that they have running backs by committee, but the guys who run the football look pretty good to me on film. I don't see a big difference regardless of who is running the ball. All in all, they have a big, fast, athletic, physical team like they always are. They will have a huge crowd so there will be a lot of noise. It's another big game for us, another big opportunity. We look forward to this challenge.

"We made a lot of improvement last week in a lot of different areas. We need to continue to make a lot of improvement, particular in today's and tomorrow's practice. It is important that we really understand what we are doing in all three phases of the game. We have to execute very well and not turn the football over to have a chance to beat Auburn at their place."

Talk a little more about Quentin Groves and the Auburn defense.
"They move Quentin around a great deal. He lines up at a linebacker position and he also stands up on the outside and inside. But regardless where he is he is coming after the quarterback. He has excellent speed and he has a lot of instinct, a lot like Titus (Brown). They are very similar players. And Quentin is very powerful. I saw him against Kansas State and he was rushing a guy and one time he decided to run right over their left tackle. He put him on the ground and ran right to their quarterback. Their defense is very fast and very athletic. Their team pursuit, their speed and their athleticism is the strength of their football team."

They have been struggling, especially their quarterback. What are your thoughts about him?
"I've watched him and think that he's playing about like he has in the past. He's executing the offense very well. Based on what I've read in the paper, I expected them to go three downs and out and not doing anything, but that's not the case. They are moving the football. They may have one bad thing happen in a drive that stalls a drive. I don't see any lack of execution on his part, any lack of talent or ability on the Auburn offense. I'm expecting them to be firing on all cylinders on Saturday."

What is your impression of your special teams play so far this season?
"There is no question that we are better than we were last year. There is no doubt about that. I really liked our intensity on covering. We were very aggressive on kickoff coverage and I thought our punt coverage was excellent. The biggest improvement was that I thought Blake (McAdams) punted the ball a lot better. And he can still punt it even better. I'm also really pleased with the way Adam (Carlson) is kicking off. That was a concern due to the rule change and definitely after Eric (Richards) got hurt. But he's putting the ball where we need to put it to give our guys a chance to cover it. That's a major improvement."

Comment on improvements that you've seen in your defense.
"We are definitely faster than we have been. And I think we tackling better. We are playing a better form of team defense right now. I think our guys are buying into the concept of making sure they are taking care of their responsibilities first. And once they do that, escape the blocker and run and get on the football. But we still have room for improvement. We have new guys like Cortez McCraney and Dominic Douglas who are still learning."

What adjustments did you make at halftime during the Tulane game?
"There wasn't a lot of adjustments necessarily, it was just execution of what we had been doing. I think quite often the halftime adjustments is nothing new that you add in the second half. Mainly, you emphasize the things that you haven't done well or if there is something that is not working you totally forget it. But more than anything else you do the things that you have been doing and try to make corrections so that you can do them better. I think that's what we did on both sides of the ball in the second half. Plus, the defense wasn't on the field as long in the second half. You can play good, hard defense when the offense is moving the ball.

"I think our defense was playing well in the first half. We had position on the throw in front of our bench with Anthony Johnson. The guy went up over him and I was amazed that he caught that ball and come down inbounds. And there was a throw on Tay Bowser on their side of the sideline. Both of them could have easily been interceptions in our opinion. We make those two plays and they don't have much in the first half either. Marcus Washington was our contain guy. And he's very aggressive and wants to make every tackle. Instead of forcing it from the outside back in he went for the tackle. And the ball got by him. Everybody was in perfect position except for one guy. That's what didn't happen in the second half."

Talk about your overall starting cornerback play.
"I like both of them as far as their competitiveness and talent as a cover corner. But they are also very good tacklers. They like to get involved in the running game because they are both tough guys. I also like their transition, their ability to break on the football when it's in the air, anticipate what is going on with the quarterback and change directions when they come out of a cut. I think AJ has excellent transition. On the one he tipped to Gabe if he hadn't slipped he would have intercepted it and run it in for six."

What are your thoughts about the play of freshman offensive tackle Derek Sherrod during the Tulane game.
"I thought he had a good game. I can say I am pleased and not necessarily surprised. He's practiced well from the time he first got here. He's handled the transition better than most freshmen, especially freshmen offensive linemen. It's not an easy thing to do. He's nowhere near where he is going to be in the future and he's going to be a very good football player for us."

Based on his performance against Tulane, how does that effect his potential playing time the rest of the season?
"It will definitely increase. It will allow us to possibly give J.D. Hamilton a little more rest. J.D.'s had a little problem with his back. It comes and goes. That's what happened to him during the game Saturday. We were very fortunate that Derek played so well. I'm sure his confidence has improved. And I know our confidence in his play has gone up."

Why didn't you play him in the LSU game?
"We just didn't want to throw him in against LSU because we didn't know exactly what we were going to see. We didn't want to put him in uncharted waters until we knew a little bit more about how he would handle things. Then, during a week's time we thought he was improving to the point of letting him play. Plus, working against Titus (Brown) everyday in practice has helped him."

How has he done against Titus?
"He didn't do very well early. The thing is he hasn't gotten intimidated. That's the biggest thing with freshmen. You are going to get beat sometimes, but he hasn't gotten intimidated. So, I don't anything will destroy him where he can't function. That's what you worry more than anything else with a freshman offensive lineman. You don't want them to get beat to the point where they can't do the things they do well. But I don't think that will happen to Derek even though he will get beat some. I think he's poised enough to keep going about his business and taking care of it."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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