Six first-year Mississippi State freshmen have been activated so far, including Wesley Carroll who continues to compete for his second start at quarterback. Other true frosh who have played are DT Williams, backup FS Zach Smith, and second offensive RT Derek Sherrod, while LBs Karlin Brown and K.J. Wright have played in kick coverage.
That leaves 13 true freshmen yet to play in 2007, and if they have not participated by now it's probable all will end up as redshirts. Though, Wright seemed to be on that track and he was put in action in the Gardner-Webb game in kick coverage. Others, like Elliott and Green and S Wade Bonner who continues to dress for games, could still get into games this year. But there is a big difference here in 2007, Coach Sylvester Croom said.
"We're in a position we don't have to rush these guys. Robert Elliott, Marcus Green, Wade Bonner, two years ago all of them would have been starting. We don't have to rush these guys, we can let them develop at their own pace."
ON THE ROAD, AGAIN: These Bulldogs have already matched the 2006 squad with two road victories. They've even done it against comparable competition; last year State won at Alabama-Birmingham of CUSA and Alabama, while the '07 Dogs have been victorious at Tulane and Auburn. The difference is both of this year's wins have come in the first month of the schedule. Or maybe it's not so much a difference as a sign of Dog-development, as counting the November win at Alabama the Bulldogs have succeeded on three of their last four road trips. "One of the things I've seen change is we believe we can win whether it's on the road or at home," said senior DE Titus Brown, who went his first two State seasons without being able to walk off an opposing home-field a winner. "We go out there and get the job done."
Now the situation has progressed to a point that Croom doesn't see as much need to stress the demands and difficulties of life on the SEC road. "We've had positive experiences, so I think we know how to handle the crowd and environment in the stadium. It's just the routine of going on the road." Not, he means, that this is every entirely ‘routine' but just "the fact that they've been there before. It doesn't mean we won't talk about it before but not as extensively."
Then again it will be hard to hear what is said tomorrow afternoon. "We'll still do the crowd noise for part of Thursday's practice, just to get them to focus better," Croom said. Just as prior to Auburn the Bulldogs worked out in the Palmeiro Center on Thursday with a variety of Tiger school and fight songs on an endless loop. A very loud loop, too. The music will change this week and the volume maybe even louder since Williams-Brice Stadium is an exceptionally high-decibel venue. Fans might seem some sort of psychological preparation here, but it's really just all-business stuff to Croom.
"As much as anything it makes you have to lock-in on what is being said in the huddle and signals."
THIRD TIME A CHARM? This weekend's travel schedule is encouragingly similar to what State has done in their most recent SEC road-wins. For the '06 Alabama game the Dogs stayed just over an hour away in Columbus, Miss., bussed in for a morning game, and won. Two weeks ago at Auburn, another short ride (from Montgomery), another 11:30 kickoff, and a victory.
This time State will be flying into Augusta, Ga., for the Friday night stay-over; bus on to Columbia in the morning and play, again, for the benefit of LFS. And if it's a 12:30 kick in the Eastern zone, it's still 11:30am back home.
AIR WARNING: While folk at South Carolina are concerned about changing quarterbacks again this month, and lack of production from some touted receivers, the State staff is not fooled into thinking these Gamecocks can't fly. "They're throwing the ball better than we are right now," Croom said, correctly. South Carolina is producing 210 air yards a game and completing almost 59% of passes no matter who is tossing the ball around.
Blake Mitchell has lost his starting status this week with Chris Smelley healthy again. Just in case, though, the Dogs are preparing for both. It's something they're getting used to. After all, Auburn changed triggermen after a quarter, and Gardner-Webb waited only one series before going with a different quarterback the rest of the way. And in this case State has a lot more scouting material on Smelley and Mitchell than either of the previous opponents.
"Whatever reason they made the changes I'm sure they feel it gives them the best chance of winning and stabilizes them offensively more than anything else," Croom said.
GOT IT CORNERED: What gives State's a better defensive chance of winning matchups in coverage is a much-improved secondary. The move of Derek Pegues from his two-yard job at cornerback to free safety has given a bit more ‘burst' for both deep coverage and support, though Croom wasn't happy with a couple of down-the-middle connections Gardner-Webb made in the second half. Still nobody denies that State is chasing and defending receivers far better in 2007.
And even if G-W did complete some nice throws, it was still a good show considering both cornerbacks were first-time starters due to injury (Tay Bowser in place of Marcus Washington) and illness (Jasper O'Quinn for Anthony Johnson). "They did pretty well. Both graded ‘winning' performances," Croom said. Though, he added, two pass interference calls on Bowser, each in the end zone, turned out to be reasonable upon review. "After I got the report back from the officials I can see what they saw. But, in the red zone it can go either way."
Besides, State's philosophy is if in doubt don't give up a touchdown. And despite the flags on that series the Dog defense didn't, forcing G-Webb to kick a field goal. Both O'Quinn and Bowser did well otherwise and are more confident they can handle themselves in SEC action now.
"That gives us more corners with game experience," Croom said. "We've got four now who have played a lot, still with Chris Nance and Keon Humphries as our third set of corners. And Demario Bobo and Pegues have both played there. That's one of the reasons we have a lot more speed in the secondary, and why we're starting to play the spread-offenses a little better than we have in the past. Because we're using more corner-type people."