MSU/Gardner-Webb Press Conference Transcript

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

Opening Statement:

"We came out of the Auburn game, except for losing (starting QB) Mike Henig for 2 to 4 weeks, reasonably healthy considering how physical the game was. We expect, at this point, that everybody else will be ready to go. We have 4 or 5 guys that may not practice today due to high temperatures, but it's nothing major. We expect to get a little work out of Jasper O'Quinn and get him back in the mix today.

"Our player of the game awards went to Avery Hannibal on defense. He had an outstanding performance. Christian Ducre had some critical plays for us offensively. And on special teams Blake McAdams had a big punt that critically changed field position late in the ballgame. And this week we awarded something that we would like to do that we haven't had in the past. It's called hits of the week. We had several in the game. The two that we gave awards to were Derek Pegues and Keith Fitzhugh.

"I expect the players to come to work today with the idea of getting better. And I will also say to them today that if anybody is comfortable today then I am going to make them very uncomfortable because you can't get better unless you get uncomfortable. I don't want anybody comfortable in practice this week; me, nobody. We are going to be very uncomfortable this week with the idea of getting better.

"Captains for the Gardner-Webb game, offensively it will be J.D. Hamilton, Avery Hannibal on defense and Jason Husband on special teams.

"We are playing Gardner-Webb this weekend. They return 19 starters from the '06 season when they were 6 and 5. They run a multiple offense, a spread offense a lot like we saw when Auburn brought in their second quarterback. We call it the ride option series where they spread the field with four wide receivers. And they have a running back, No. 1 David Montgomery, who is a small jitterbug type guy who is causing me some concern already. They spread the field and give the ball to him in space. At quarterback, Devin Campbell runs the offense very well. And they have an excellent receiver in Duvaughn Flagler, No. 22. On defense, they have a legitimate NFL prospect, a high draft choice, and a Ted Hendricks Watch Award list candidate in Brian Johnson, No. 96, their defensive end and a good trio of linebackers in No. 45 their middle linebacker Mario Brown, No. 42 Quantavis Jackson and No. 9 Jeffrey Williams. Their defensive scheme is very much like Auburn, multiple four-down front. And they do bring in an extra defensive back in a three-down scheme very much like we do. So, we are familiar with the fronts, but we've only got two games to watch. My concern with them is watch adjustments have they made after watching us play while they relaxed last weekend.

"(And) I'm sure they will come in with the David versus Goliath mentality looking for a big win just like a lot of teams have done already in the early part of the season. But it's a big opportunity for us as well; it's a chance to go 3-0 in a long time around here. If we win this game it will be the first time we have won at home since early last year."

After such a big win Saturday how important is it not to have a letdown this week?
"It is real important. I thought we had a good attitude about our work (Monday). We outlined yesterday what we expected to do. And I'll spend a considerable amount of time outlining what I expect to get done today. I'm literally taking it one day at a time. We adjusted our practice schedule yesterday so that we could get a little more individual work than we normally get on Monday. We really have to improve our passing game, so we worked a little more extensively on that yesterday. That doesn't mean we are going to get away from our run, but we've been down this road before so we know what will happen; there will be nine men on the line of scrimmage, so we have to be able to throw the football."

Talk about the improved play of Christian Ducre the past couple of weeks.
"He had a big game for us the other day. Christian has really improved over the course of the spring and the summer. I think everybody has understood that we have been extremely hard on him. It was easy to recognize last fall that he has some running skills and above average feet, but he didn't protect the ball as securely as he needed to. And he's done that as of late. He did have one, what the announcers call a ground-caused fumble. We don't cotton to that around here. The ball came out, so it's a fumble no matter what people call it. We don't tolerate that.

"The combination of those two guys (Anthony Dixon and Christian Ducre) particularly with their size, that really makes it tough on defenses. And both of them did an excellent job of finishing forward as the ballgame went on. Late in the game, Christian's burst that he had on the two draw plays was pretty outstanding because he really exploded through the hole and didn't give their defense time to get in great position to execute a good tackle."

What did you guys do that allowed you to keep Quentin Groves in check?
"The fact that we ran the football successfully probably kept him in check because with a guy like him if you throw it enough times he is going to get you sooner or later.

"But overall we were pleased with our offensive line play. Their defensive line gave us some problems. We all talked about Quentin last week but they had two big tackles that were just about as good as (LSU's Glenn) Dorsey. Our guys came out of the game respecting those two guys as much as any defensive tackles that we have played during the last three or four years. They were really impressed with those guys. And after looking at the film, I was to. I don't know if we will see much better than that.

"I was very pleased with the play of J.D. Hamilton when he came back. He had his best game. We took him out at one point and put (true freshman Derek) Sherrod in. When he came back in he played his best ballgame since he's been here. He has been dealing with a lot emotionally with the loss of his dad this summer. It's been tough on him."

Talk about your tight end play.
"Our tight ends were physical throughout the ballgame. Eric Butler had his best ballgame. He didn't catch a lot of passes, but he blocked extremely well."

How has Craig Jenkins adjusted to playing offensive guard after initially playing offensive tackle?
"He has adjusted very well. Back in the summer I made the decision that he wasn't going to play right tackle, but we didn't know where we were going to put him. He's very limited at tackle as far as pass-protection. (MSU offensive line coach) J.B. (Grimes) came up with the idea of putting him at guard. I had some reservations because there were some things I wanted to do pulling wise and I didn't know if he could do them. But he pulls far better than we thought he would. And he's a lot better pass-protector because he's so big. It takes a day and a half to get around him anyway. So, it was a great move for us, a great idea by our offensive line coach J.B. Grimes. It's really given us a solid starting five."

Why do you think this team can handle the loss of Mike Henig better than last year's team did?
"Well, we have two quarterbacks. Our defense is better. Our kicking game is better. Our offensive line is better. Our running game is better. Our entire team is better. Because of that, the pressure doesn't go directly to the quarterback position like it did last year. Right now, if our quarterbacks can manage the game we have a chance because all the other phases are pretty solid. But we do have to find a passing game that we can hang our hat on. We know there are certain things we can do well in the running game. We will do them against anybody and we don't care if they know it. We've got to find those same things in the passing game. We've got to find something that our quarterbacks can execute on a consistent basis against any coverages or blitzes that they might put out there."

With Mike out for a few weeks do you feel like you now have to rush the two quarterbacks?
"We are in a position where we don't have to rush them. We can let them come along at their own pace which is a luxury that we haven't been afforded previously.

"I'll take it another step. We have some guys like Robert Elliott, Marcus Green, Chris Relf, Ethan Stockett, Wade Bonner, K.J. Wright ... all of those guys are going to be excellent football players. I mean very good football players. If they were here two years ago they would be starting for us. But we don't have to rush those guys in the game anymore. We can bring them along at a pace where when they do play they will play winning football."

In the last two games your defense hasn't allowed a score. Are you making certain adjustments at halftime that allows that to happen?
"I'm not one that's real big on what you call adjustments. When I say adjustments you just look at the gameplan and you make one or two changes or you get guys to execute right. There can't be a lot of adjustments. You only have 15 or 20 minutes (at halftime) so there's not going to be a lot of changes. If you haven't practiced it all week, it's not going to happen on Saturday. It's more of you doing what you are supposed to do, this is where we broke down, you may have to put somebody else in the game .... that's the kind of adjustments that you make."

Will the trademark of Sylvester Croom teams be hard-hitting, physical teams that emphasize teamwork?
"I sure hope so. That's the only football I really know and the only football I believe in ... hitting people in the mouth, not beating yourself with penalties and turnovers and playing as a team. We had a little discussion with a couple of our players that if anybody can't buy into the team concept, then they need to go to see (MSU compliance officer) Bracky Brett and go somewhere else because we will play as a team. I don't like selfish players at all. Guys who are all about themselves, this is not the place for them to play."

Was the Auburn victory bigger than last year's Alabama game as far as being the turning point in your program?
"(Hesitation)...... not really, I think you make a valid point that we won a big SEC game early in the season, but I don't think we win that game without the Alabama win. If we go on and be the kind of team that I think we can be, the turning point, in my mind, would have come last year during the last five minutes of the Alabama game ... if there is a turning point."

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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