MSU-South Carolina Press Conference

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

Opening Statement:

"We had a couple of guys who played extremely well in our last ballgame. The player of the game on offense was Anthony Strauder who had an outstanding performance. Titus Brown turned in another outstanding performance on defense. And Jarvis Kyles did an exceptional job for us on special teams. Jarvis Kyles, in particular, has done an outstanding job. He has really stepped up for us and done an exceptional job for us on special teams. He is considered a starter for us on special teams and is very valuable to us. He has shown a great team attitude throughout his time here.

"Captains for our game this week will be Titus Brown on defense, Dezmond Sherrod on offense and Jarvis Kyles on special teams.

"We had good work in practice yesterday. We worked a little bit longer because we wanted to get some extra work on the passing game. And, defensively, some extra work on some things that South Carolina is doing offensively.

"We will start back in earnest today. Today, we will get back in our shoulder pads and get back to our fundamental work. We have a lot of work to get done, particularly in our passing game as far as protection, route-running and throwing the football. We also have to be sharp in our running game. Defensively, we have to eliminate some of the mistakes that we made in the ballgame last week, particularly in our pass coverages. I'm sure we will see a lot of looks that will try to exploit some of the breakdowns that we had in coverages. We have to shore up our kicking. Our kickers have to kick better, our punting and kicking off. But our coverage was excellent last week, especially when you consider the shortness of our kicks. That has been one of the bright spots in these games so far this season.

"One of the things we really want to emphasize with our players is that we have another big road game going into a hostile environment. The main thing will be how we prepare, moreso than what they do because we have no control over that. We really have to raise our expectation level on what we expect in practice and get the execution at the highest level in all three phases of our game."

How many running backs do you feel you need in your style running game?
"I have always felt like if you are serious about running the football you need to have at least two backs. But I like more backs than that because I always assume that one of them will be in the training room if you are serious about running the football. Those guys get hit, particularly if they run the ball the style that we like to run. I like for our guys to play physical. They don't just get hit in the running game, but they take a lot of licks in the passing protection as well. They are involved in one-on-one pass protection and sometimes it's against defensive ends.

"We are fortunate that we have four, two that carry the load and two others that come in late in the game and make contributions. (Christian) Ducre has really upped his game. He is a sound technician now. His steps are nice and he's not missing reads. And he's hitting the hole with a real nice burst. And another thing is he is protecting the football. Being able to play both guys is a tremendous plus for us because it keeps both of them fresh. And they both have slightly different styles, which helps. Even though (Anthony) Dixon is a bigger guy, there is a difference in the burst to the hole. Sometimes, I think defenses, after tackling Dixon, are fooled when Ducre comes in."

Where is your passing game compared to your running game?
"The running game usually comes around faster than the passing game. You expect that because our running game doesn't have as many moving parts as our passing game. We don't change our running game that much. What we do hasn't changed that much in two years - the techniques we do, the assignments. On the board the runs stay the same, but the formations change sometimes. In the passing game there is a lot more volume to it and it takes a lot more repetitions due to the timing."

How did cornerbacks Tay Bowser and Jasper O'Quinn do during the Gardner-Webb game?
"They did pretty well. They both graded well, graded winning performances. Both of them got far more snaps than they would have under normal circumstances. What that does is give our corners game experience. No matter who much you practice, game experience is totally different than practice. So, we now have four corners who have played a lot. Add in Chris Nance and Keon Humphries and we have more numbers than we have ever had. Plus, if we ever have an injury, (Demario) Bobo could go back out there. That gives us more speed than we have had in the past. Our corner play has definitely improved, but we still have room for improvement."

"The disappointment I had in Tay was the two, really, three penalties that he had. I thought they were close on all of them, but I can understand, after getting the report back from the officials, what they thought. But anytime you are in tight coverage, particularly in the red zone, it can go either way. But we always tell them not to give up a touchdown at all costs. And it worked out for us because we ended up not letting them in the endzone. But we have to get him better with his techniques so that we can play tight man-to-man coverage without him getting a penalty. Because of Tay's speed and height, he should rarely get the fade ball thrown on him.

"I thought that Jasper did exceptionally well, especially when you consider that he had been injured the previous week."

Talk about the progress of linebacker Dominic Douglas as well as how he played in the Gardner-Webb game.
"First of all, he is a pretty intelligent guy. Even though he went to junior college, he was a qualifier coming out of high school, so he hasn't had any problems learning. We first had him behind Gabe (O'Neal), but we saw how well he performed in the spring, so we wanted to give him a chance to be a starter. And it's turned out very well. He has speed and natural instinct, the ability to find the ball. He is one of the key guys who has helped us improve our team speed, particularly on defense.

"He made a couple of mistakes in the (Gardner-Webb) game in coverage. They were aggressive mistakes. He busted a couple of coverages. He jumped a flat route when he should have stayed high which really got them going in the second half. It should have been an interception, but instead they had a real nice completion."

Since South Carolina is going to start another quarterback, what does that tell you about their offense?
"Not a whole lot. They are going to throw the football. We know Steve's (Spurrier) offense is always an excellent passing team. But the thing that gets overlooked is they play good defense and they run the ball very well. Looking at their film, they are throwing the football better than we are right now, but they are running the ball well, too. Our defense will have to play both aspects."

How has offensive tackle Mike Brown played this season?
"Mike has had some very good games. I would give him a very positive grade at this point. But I think one of the things that (MSU offensive line coach) J.B. (Grimes) has challenged him on is improving in the running game. He's always been a pretty good pass-protector, but he wasn't a very good run-blocker when he first got here. He's come a long way in that aspect, but he is still not consistent. He graded very well in the game the other night, but I think two of his critical errors came in simple hat placement in the running game. I remember one play in particular because he and I had a little conversation when he came off the field because it was something that we had worked on extensively last week in practice. Then, he missed it in the game and it cost us a big play opportunity. But I like Mike's work ethic. He's a guy who is constantly trying to get better. And he is consistently improving and making himself into a good football player. He's a very valuable asset to our program."

How big is this game as far as the season is concerned?
"I'm looking at it as it's the next one. It's one game. I don't look at it as being a forbearance of things to come the rest of the season. Everybody thought the season was over with after the LSU game, but it wasn't. And it wasn't over after the Auburn game either."

How much do you think the loss of Jasper Brinkley hurts South Carolina?
"If I was in that situation that would be like losing (Jamar) Chaney or Gabe (O'Neal), and that would be a tremendous loss. It hurts anytime you lose an experienced player. And his size, 260 pounds at linebacker, is unheard of in this day and time. Having that bulk in the game against our running game would be a tremendous plus for them."

When did you decide that you were going to play freshman linebacker K.J. Wright?
"We made that decision back in training camp, we just hadn't played him yet. There was never any intention not to play K.J. We intended to play him on special teams, but we did want to wait and see if anybody would step up and give us a solid player behind Gabe (O'Neal). That's been an area of concern ever since we have been here ... if something happened to Gabe we didn't have a backup player. So, we wanted to see if he would make that type player before we put him in a game .... would he continue to improve during the course of the week during our practice and our scrimmages that would warrant playing him where we could put him in a game against good competition in crucial situations? And it had gotten to that point where we needed to invest that time in him and play him. We used him on special teams and if something happens to Gabe we wouldn't be afraid to put him in there. He is becoming a backup player for us. We didn't put him out there just to play special teams. We expect to play him at linebacker. He's the number two SAM linebacker now."

Did Gabe being a senior factor into K.J. playing?
"Not really. If we had felt like he wasn't ready to play we would have used other alternatives. But we felt like K.J. could handle it because we feel like he's going to be a very good player. In the last two scrimmages and the course of the week in 9 on 7s against our first offense he has done some very good things. So, we decided to go ahead and make the commitment to get him ready to play."

As for your two quarterbacks, how will you determine who plays when in the next few games? And let's say one gets hot in the South Carolina game, will that factor into your decision?
"We'll play both of them, probably alternate every couple of series even in the early part of the ballgame. But I'll play it based on the feel of the game. If one gets the hot hand, then we will let him stay out there a longer period of time."

What are the strengths of the two quarterbacks?
"Wes manages the team extremely well. He's making good decision and he's not turning the ball over. It's obvious he runs the ball very well. And he gives us some elements that we haven't used extensively previously. And we will take advantage of those.

"Josh is definitely throwing the ball better right now, but we still have to see where his decision-making goes during the rest of the week. But there's no question that he's the better passer at this point. The thing that he and Wes also give is both of them have more mobility than Mike (Henig) and gives us more weapons. Neither one of them throws the ball as well as Mike, but we think we can win using both of them. We just have to make certain that we don't asked them to do things that they aren't very good at."

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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