Thursday Football Practice Notebook

Last Thursday, Mississippi State was still trying to settle who would be the backup quarterback at Auburn. A week later the situation is similar, though the spot on the depth chart one serious rung higher as Coach Sylvester Croom tries to decide on who will take the first offensive snap this Saturday evening.

Both Wesley Carroll and Josh Riddell are competing for their first collegiate start when Mississippi State hosts Gardner-Webb (6:00ct). Both played in relief at Auburn when veteran Mike Henig went down after one series with a broken hand, first Carroll and then Riddell with Carroll directing the winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

Now, one of them will get to start; the week's question is, which? After Thursday's practice Croom was noncommittal. "I'm not real sure yet. I'll look at film tonight, think about a few things and see what we do. It's a lot of variables. I'm not going to make any comments farther than that because I don't want to pin myself down on anything."

Which was another way of saying neither has made a clear case after four days of drills. And neither is surprised because they expect the choice to come down to all the details only a coach can judge off tape.

"It's an accumulation of what we do on the practice field," said Carroll. "The little things, whether we do them right, make the right reads, all that stuff. He won't decide until the end of the week." Though, during these four practice days Carroll has taken the first snap of every period observed by media, which does not include full 11-on-11 work.

At the same time Riddell remains very much more a 1A than a second-team choice. "I'm just getting prepared for Gardner-Webb and when I get a chance in practice doing what I can do to showcase my abilities." Which, according to the junior transfer, includes close attention to scouting tapes, review of practice video, and awareness of all he needs to do within this system. "Knowing what position to put the team in. What plays, where to go, things like that. Every time I go out there I want to do the best I can, so I'm trying to show everybody what I can do. Then hopefully it will work out good."

Having been on campus in spring, Riddell should have the edge. But Carroll was promoted to #2 for the first two games when his elder ran afoul of team discipline in mid-August. "I look back and know it was a bad decision," Riddell said. "But I have to move forward and help the team out now. When I get a chance and Coach puts me in just do what I can do."

So it was the true freshman Carroll who handled every late-game snap in relief of Henig against LSU and Tulane. That helped close the gap in terms of experience. Though, Carroll had his own advantage on Riddell by having directed a very similar offensive system in high school.

"It helps tremendously knowing that I can run these plays, that I've done it before against athletes in south Florida. Not the same or the same coached, but the same caliber of athletes, but knowing I can run the same routes and types of packages really helps the confidence."

The encouraging aspect to this week's uncertainty is that neither candidate has shown signs of tension about the chance to be handling first-snap before the home crowd. If anything, it's the competition that has kept both Riddell and Carroll focused on the immediate task.

"It keeps both of us mentally prepared every time we go out there, it keeps us on our toes trying to win that job," Carroll said. "Which will make both of us better and in-turn make the team better." And both stress that the contest isn't personal; in fact they compare notes constantly. "We try to help each other, it's not to the point where it's cut-throat," Carroll said. "We're not trying to trip each other down the hallway or anything! It's friendly competitiveness and it's healthy competitiveness for the whole team."

Still one of them has to take the first Saturday snap…though Croom isn't concerned about how either would handle the responsibility even if he waits until game-day to make the call. "I don't think it makes any difference, I really don't. Hey, I'm more concerned about the second and third snaps than the first one, just to see how they handle it."

*INJURY UPDATE: Most of the Bulldogs held out of Wednesday practice for illness, from a virus running through the squad, were back to work today. But several were limited, such as DT Jessie Bowman, S Keith Fitzhugh, and CB Anthony Johnson who all wore purple jerseys.

Also in limited-purple for more routine injuries were DT Cortez McCraney (ankle) and DT Rodney Prince (heel). And TE Dezmond Sherrod was limited as usual, to protect his sore foot as much as practical.

The good Thursday news was that DE Titus Brown (groin) and S Derek Pegues (thigh) were both in regular varsity shirts and running full-speed. None of these listed are expected to miss the game.

*THAT BITES: Henig's injured throwing (right) hand was operated on over the weekend to repair damage from the spiral fracture of the metacarpal, and to put in a permanent plate. The cast came off today, trainer Paul Mock said. "He wears a splint and is moving his fingers," Mock said. "In about two weeks is when he'll be x-rayed to see if he's laid down bone."

However, Henig has another date with a doctor this week, but not for an injury. "He will have surgery Friday to have his wisdom teeth taken out," Mock said. In fact, Henig knew this procedure was coming at some point, and after the injury even asked if the teeth could come out at the same time the hand operation was performed. No, was the answer, in case of infection.

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