Monday Football Practice Notebook

Mississippi State got back to business Monday afternoon as preparations for this weekend's home game with Gardner-Webb began in earnest. So much so that, just in case his team was still riding a post-victory high from Auburn, Coach Sylvester Croom kept them onfield ten or so minutes longer than usual for Monday with some added post-session running.

The Monday practice followed routine with the Mississippi State varsity reporting in shorts and helmet, and the rest—reserves, redshirts, backups who didn't play or play much the past weekend—in full gear. The latter also went through the standard Monday scrimmage, ten minutes of extra work at full-speed. Interestingly, one of the players staying to scrimmage was QB Josh Riddell, who is competing for this weekend's starting job now that Mike Henig is out following surgery for a broken hand.

The other quarterback contender, Wesley Carroll, was in shorts and taking the first snap of every varsity drill. Riddell was splitting time in those periods, too, with Zack Harrington and Chris Relf competing for #3 status. As this is a non-conference home game State can dress as many players as they wish.

After practice both Carroll and Riddell spoke with reporters. Their comments will be published later this week and as their battle for Saturday starter continues.

*For the second-straight week a Bulldog was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week. Safety Derek Pegues earned the honor after a day at Auburn that produced a tipped-interception returned for State's first touchdown, along with five official tackles and a pass broken up. Pegues got the news when he reported to the Holliman Center this afternoon.

"I was surprised," he said of the award. "I felt I didn't make enough plays to get that reward. But I guess they thought differently." Pegues follows senior linebacker Gabe O'Neal, who was the league defensive POTW after the Tulane game, in which O'Neal also had a touchdown return. Now Pegues has matched his elder teammate. "Gabe hasn't said anything about it. It's just good somebody from the team got it two weeks in a row, hopefully we continue the trend."

The touchdown return was Pegues' third career, giving him the program record all to himself. Pegues ran back a pair of picks in 2006 to tie the season and career marks. This was his sixth career interception; he needs three more to move into the MSU career top-ten.

Actually Pegues has more room to talk as he had more tackles than O'Neal did in winning the DPOTW. "Yeah, but I missed more, too! I should have had about ten or eleven, I didn't think I played as well as I could."

Maybe not, but he played well enough and claimed to have a bead on another interception—on Auburn's third-and-goal pass at game's end—if the throw into the end zone hadn't been deflected by LB Jamar Chaney. Yet it is another pass play that has folk buzzing this week, moreso even than his touchdown return. It was when Pegues hammered Tiger tight end Gabe McKenzie in the third quarter, preventing a completion that would've netted twenty yards at least. The collision was captured in detail by video and still photographers and is making the rounds.

"They've got it up on YouTube and everybody's been sending it to me on e-mail," Pegues said. "I was just trying to get the ball out, I had a good jump on the ball and if he'd (the AU passer) had floated it I could have intercepted it." Pegues settled for sticking the bigger McKenzie in the back and breaking up the play, if not some other things in the process.

"At first I heard the crowd scream and didn't know if I'd got the ball out or not. I turned around and saw it rolling right beside my head. And I heard everybody saying ‘ooooh!' so I knew it was a pretty good lick." Just how good, he realized this afternoon when the coaches put it up on the big screen for unit review. Even Pegues said ‘ooooh!' then. "I said man, I didn't know I hit him that hard!"

*This is not the first time in program history Mississippi State has had consecutive honorees by the league office. In 1992 LB Daniel Boyd and S Kelvin Knight were so recognized in back-to-back weeks. The only time it has happened for State on offense was in 1986 when QB Don Smith was league POTW consecutively in September weeks.

*Pegues not only got an award Monday, he was handed a purple shirt for practice. He'd played almost three quarters with a contusion on the upper-right thigh. "I can't even remember when it happened, it was probably the 14th, 15th play of the game." It obviously didn't slow him down Saturday but after a couple of days for things to get stiff some protection is in order.

CB Marcus Washington came out to practice late in a red cross, still suffering with the after effects of his back injury. He is questionable as of now for the Gardner-Webb game. Also in red cross shirts were starting DT Cortez McCraney after slightly spraining the left ankle; DT Rodney Prince with a foot infection; CB Jasper O'Quinn with the pulled quadriceps suffered at Tulane; and TE Desmond Sherrod, who will be dealing with a sore foot all season that hopefully won't become a full-blown stress fracture.

The most notable injury of the game of course was to Henig, who suffered a spiral fracture of the third metacarpal in his throwing hand. Surgery to install a permanent plate in the hand was performed over the weekend, and Henig was still recovering today. With the hand in a cast no more specific projection than two-to-four weeks is possible until the cast comes off. After that, it will be how fully the fracture has healed and then how much pain Henig can tolerate on the hand as the ball is snapped into the palm.

*Another subject of video review has been the second-quarter pass from QB Wesley Carroll to TE Jason Husband. The throw was superb, splitting double-coverage, and Husband got both hands on the ball while both leaping and falling backwards only to have it come loose as he landed in the end zone. Replay suggested, and TV commentators speculated, that an appeal at the time might have produced a touchdown call.

Croom wasn't nearly so sure. From both his perspective on the far sideline, and from what State offensive coaches upstairs saw on the same replay, it wasn't worth risking one of the two remaining timeouts. "From what the guys said in the press box he never put the ball away. Everybody said his foot was down but he never tucked the ball away, and if you don't clearly have possession they're not going to call it." Not even his own viewing of the replay changed that opinion.

"When I saw it on replay I didn't think it was a bad call. We turned it in (to the SEC Office) just to see what they said, but based on what I saw I didn't think it was worth challenging. If he had gotten the ball in his hands and tucked it away, it would have been different. He never got a chance to put the ball away, and if that ball is moving around at all they're not going to count it."

Fortunately the play didn't cost State a win, so it's academic now. Though, Croom said, he's using the tape again to make a point to all his receivers. "I told Jason you've got to catch the ball, then have something to challenge."

*Mississippi State was notified just after noon that next weekend's game at South Carolina has been taken by Lincoln Financial Sports for their regional telecast. Kickoff from Williams-Brice Stadium is 12:30et, 11:30ct. It's the second-straight SEC game this year the Dogs will be on LFS.

After beating Auburn over the weekend, State is now 18-23 in all such regional games shown either by J-P or LFS. And the Bulldogs have won their last two games on the ‘Abe' network counting last year's victory at Alabama.

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