MSU-UAB Press Conference Transcript

Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom talks about his team's upcoming opponent, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, as well as thoughts about his own team.

Opening Statement:

"Even in our loss at South Carolina last weekend, we had some guys play extremely well. Titus Brown had an outstanding game - two tackles, one assist, five quarterback pressures, a knockdown and two sacks. He's played very well every week this season. He's playing consistently well and that's something a lot of our guys aren't doing. The offensive line had a very good performance. Right now, we have about seven guys we consider as starters. Our starting five plus (Michael) Gates and Derek Sherrod is playing extremely well. Christian Ducre had another outstanding football game. And our three linebackers - Gabe (O'Neal), (Jamar) Chaney and (Dominic) Douglas.

"Our captains this week will be Gabe O'Neal for the defense, Anthony Strauder for the offense and Tim Bailey for our special teams.

"Going back to the South Carolina game, we played hard, did some good things. But when we had a chance to win the game at the end, we had a critical span, particularly on offense after we had taken the lead, when we didn't make some plays that were there. It really came down to stretching some series of plays on offense and the blocked punt in the kicking game that cost us the ballgame.

"Our emphasis this week is trying to do the little things right all the time because as tight as the level of competition is in our conference, a play here, a play there, a missed assignment here can cost you a ballgame despite playing with great effort and intensity for a long period of time.

"The big question that I know everybody has is our situation at quarterback. Mike (Henig) did practice some (Monday) and will practice even more extensively (Tuesday). We'll go day-by-day with him to see what he can do. He will be available on Saturday. In exactly what capacity has not been determined. We'll only be able to determine that as the week goes on. But it was very encouraging that Mike can throw the football. What else he can do at this point we haven't worked with him enough to know. Right now, Wes (Carroll) will start the ballgame. But we'll work Mike, Chris Relf and Zack Harrington. The depth chart won't be determined until later in the week.

"Josh (Riddell) won't be operated on until next week. He's out for the season. At the appropriate time we will look at our options as far as possibly trying to get him another year.

"UAB is a team that concerns me considerable, especially on the offensive side of the football. They have two quarterbacks that have played very well. They both throw the ball well, but they also run the ball well. Their number 5, Joseph Webb, is very similar to the backup quarterback at Auburn. And we all know what kind of problems that young man gave us. They have a little running back about the same size as Tulane had, Rashaud Slaughter. He's the same style running back, one of those jitter-bug type guys that always give us problems out in space. They have a big freshman receiver, No. 11, Mario Wright, who is about 6-5, 200 pounds. They like to throw the ball to him and all their receivers. They run the spread offense and throw a lot of deep balls. Their quarterback can run. And have an excellent open field runner at their running back spot. So, that means problems. Defensively, they are a four-down team, just like a lot of teams in our conference. But they mix in a lot of three-down stuff to try to confuse you. They run a lot of blitz packages, a lot more combination coverages than we normally see.

"Of course, they gave us a tough time last year. We had to win the game in overtime last year. And the last time they came over here they won the game. It will be a tough contest for us. It's important game for us, it's a home game and it's homecoming. And it's a chance for us - the first time in a long time where we have a chance to win four games at this point in the season. So, it's a great opportunity, but also another tremendous challenge. And we have to be at our absolute best for us to achieve our goals this week."

Talk more about Christian Ducre and why you like how he's playing right now?
"It's a combination of him playing well and Anthony Dixon not playing up to my expectations. It's the little things. I noticed last week while watching the film of practice that Ducre took a little more flex in his knees in his stance, a little more confidence, a little more focused just by that slight change in his stance. You could tell by the way he practiced last week, the details, the steps, his body language, how his body leaned in the hole, he finished forward on every play, his pass-protection. A little thing I noticed, we were in shorts ... and we always talk about when you are in shorts you are not practicing as far as contact, but that is the time when we really want to concentrate and visualize the game happening. And I saw him going through the steps in the blocking techniques exactly like it would have been if it had been live. That's what I'm talking about when I say getting better. I saw Aubrey Bell doing the same thing. Some guys are starting to get it. But we have some guys - and Anthony Dixon is one of those - who don't quite get it yet. He is an excellent back, an excellent talent, but the idea of being a great player hasn't quiet consumed him at this point. When it does, he has a chance to be a great one. But right now he is average. I hope he will get that picture and decide to be a great player because he is surely the guy who can. He is the guy on our offense who can lead us and be a dominate player in this conference, but not until he decides to do the little things."

You mentioned Aubrey Bell. Talk a little more about him.
"Aubrey has had a yo-yo career since he has been here, up one day, down the next day, sort of like the stock market. But he has been very consistent of late. I was very impressed with the touchdown he caught in the game (against South Carolina). He was in the exact spot, he moved to a wide open spot and stepped back to the ball. Then, when he caught the ball he exploded into the end zone. I thought that was one of the best run-after-catches that we have had here in some time. He took that ball and was totally intent on getting it into the end zone. That was impressive. And yesterday in practice you could see that intensity level and the focus in the way he practiced. I can see him trying to be a very good receiver for us. He is probably our smartest receiver. He plays all three spots. He will start for us at the X-spot."

How is Demario Bobo performing so far this season after being out last season?
"He did some good things against Gardner-Webb. But he is still knocking a little rust off. He didn't play well early in the game the other day, some of it due to the details. But he definitely has the ability to help us. He is a good tackler, he has excellent range in coverage, but the details hurt him. He did some good things for us on the special teams. But he was a little undisciplined in coverage last week, and it hurt us. That is something he will work on and get corrected."

Chris Relf mentioned that there were 600 total plays and formations in the MSU playbook.
"*(Laugh) No, we don't have anywhere near 600 plays. I think the 600 is quiet an exaggeration. I don't think Mike could handle 600. That may be in the playbook, but we don't use that many. One of the reasons we wanted to redshirt Chris is because he hasn't been exposed to much information or even the amount of fundamental work that we expect from our quarterbacks. But he is a very talented young man, very studious ... and we expect him to be a very good quarterback in the future. But he may have to play earlier than we expect him to, and there is a chance he won't. But we have to get him ready, not only for this week, but in the event something occurs late in the season."

Have you told your quarterbacks, especially Wes Carroll, to be a little more conservative in their playing style due to the injuries?
"No, I don't think the quarterback can play worried about that. Wes is a bit more mobile, and instinctively he will pull that ball down a little more readily than Josh and definitely more than Mike in advancing the football. That's just in his makeup, part of who he is. And he runs the ball extremely well, so I'm not concerned about that. We even have more calls for him that we don't even dare think about with Mike and Josh. And I don't see very many quarterbacks getting hurt running the football ... it's (usually) when they get hit in the pocket."

Do you remind your guys about last year's game against UAB?
"The guys who played in the game last year are well aware that we had to fight tooth and nail just to win an overtime game. They are a dangerous football team. They almost beat Florida State and Florida State did a number on Alabama the other night. That is impressive enough to me. I don't think you have to say much more than that. Everybody has seen what kind of talent Florida State has. And I don't think we are as talented as Florida State by any stretch of the imagination. And these guys should have won that game."

Aubrey Bell has gotten a first down every time he has caught the ball this season. Does or doesn't that surprise you?
"That doesn't surprise me. When you look at playmakers, Aubrey has that kind of talent. But he has always been one of those guys who has sort of being hit or miss. When he does things well it is a beautiful thing. And when he doesn't, it's an ugly thing. But the thing about it is he is starting to make those plays more consistently.

"It's never been any question about Aubrey's ability. The questions have been about the mental focus and about his off-the-field habits as much as anything else. And one of the things I keep trying to get across to our plays - and some people might not buy into this - how you conduct yourself as a person on and off the field shows up in your play. When you don't have your life squared away off the field, it is going to show up on the field. There is no way around that. When a guy has been playing well on the field, as soon as he is having problems off the field you know it without him telling you anything. It comes onto the field with him. Now, we've seen a change in Aubrey's habits off the field, classwork and everything. And you are also seeing it on the football field. It's a great thing for us because he is a talented guy, he's a competitor, a tough guy. He has good hands, he is big and he's a good route runner, probably our best route runner. When the game is on the line and you tell me there is only guy I can throw to, it would be Aubrey."

What about his speed?
"He's not a 4.4 guy, but he finds a way to get open. Aubrey has enough speed, but his size and his techniques are what allows him to do that. You don't have to be a 4.4 guy to be a great receiver. He is a route runner. There are catchers and there are receivers. He is working toward being a true receiver. And that means having the ability to get open and the ability to make the play. Speed is a nice asset, but it's not a prerequisite."

Percentage-wise, how much of your offense do you feel comfortable using with Wes Carroll?
"Wes is the least of my worries. I don't worry about Wes knowing what to do and how to do it. I'm not concerned about Wes at all. We put certain things in during the spring, in the summer and in training camp. We haven't added anything during the season. In fact, we have cut back tremendously, particularly after the first game when we threw six interceptions. We knew right then we needed to figure out what we do best and do that. And we haven't changed very much since we cut back after that ballgame.

"As for Wes, during the course of the week, we will take the top ten passes that he likes and feels comfortable with and that is what we will emphasize during the ballgame."

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

Gene's Page Top Stories