MSU-Tennessee Press Conference Transcript

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

Opening Statement:

"First thing I would like to announce are a couple of awards from (the UAB) game. Our player of the week offensively was Anthony Dixon. Our defensive player of the week was Anthony Johnson. For our kicking game player of the week we had two guys, Kyle Love and Anthony Johnson. We also have two big hits of the week, our fullback Eric Hoskins and De'Mon Glanton on the field goal block.

"Captains for the Tennessee game will be Lance Long on offense, Titus Brown on defense and Gabe O'Neal for our kicking game.

"As of right now, we are reasonably healthy going into the ballgame. Chris Nance and LaMarcus Williams are both expected to practice this afternoon. And we think that Dominic Douglas will get some practice in on Thursday. We don't anticipate Tay Bowser participating this week.

"Of course, it is a big home game against Tennessee. I think they have improved tremendously as the season has gone on. We know their tradition and what kind of athletes they have in their program. And they are playing pretty good football. The strengths of their team is their offensive line, their quarterback Erik Ainge, and they don't give you anything. They play very physical and they are running the ball a lot better as the season has gone on. And they protect the ball extremely well. Our defense has to do an outstanding job of making plays in third down situation and getting off the field. That is going to be a tremendous challenge for us.

"Defensively, they have two outstanding players and several good players. But the guy who caught my attention is their middle linebacker, Jerod Mayo. I think he's an outstanding athlete who makes a lot of plays. They have some young guys in the secondary, one in particular, Eric Berry - who we recruited - who is a threat to really make a play if he gets his hands on the ball. Xavier Mitchell, No. 93, is also playing very good football.

"Another guy who is a concern to us is their punter Britton Colquitt. He really changes the field position for them, and quite often gives them some advantageous field position.

"So, all in all, it is a very solid Tennessee football team.

"We've got to continue to make improvements. And I feel like we are at a point, if we can get some things corrected, we can make this a very good football game ... a game that I think we can win, but we are going to have to play extremely well. We are really going to have to play our best football, which I don't think we have come close to playing at this point."

Talk a little about their offense.
"They are doing a good job running the football. The offense that they are doing is very similar to what we do. They do a lot of the same things. I guess David (Cutcliffe) has studied the West Coast stuff and has incorporated a lot of those things into their offense. But they are very adept at it. Their timing is very good. He knows exactly where he is going with the football and he gets it in their hands extremely fast. And anytime you can run the football and you have a very good passing game it makes it extremely difficult to get to the quarterback."

What areas has Tennessee improved in?
"They are running the football. And they have balance on offense. I think their defense is playing better now. California was able to run the ball well on them early, but you don't see the explosive gains on their defense that you saw early in the season."

What are your thoughts about the overall kicking game?
"I think they excel in the kicking game. Their kickers are kicking the ball very well. Both are among the best in the country. And they are always going to be a good coverage team because they have good speed. Going into the game, kicking is where they probably have an advantage on us. But our coverage units have done well. We had a breakdown the other day because we had a lot of guys in there who don't normally play. We were just trying to give them a chance to get into the ballgame."

Why do you feel it has been so hard to get to their quarterback this season?
"A lot of the reason he's been hard to get to is because of their running game. You are anchored down in there playing the run, then all of a sudden he takes a three to five-step drop and the ball is out. That's why he is not getting sacked right now. The key is to stop the running game. That's the first thing you have to do. You have to stop the run to make them a one-dimensional football team.

"If we can get them into a predictable pass-rush situation and we hold the coverage long enough, Titus and Avery Hannibal will get there. I'm not worried about that if we can hold up the coverage. But the key is stopping their running game, so you don't let them have a balanced offensive attack. If you have that, it's tough, because defensive linemen can't play both every single down."

How has Jamar Chaney played this year?
"Jamar has played well. He's had some big ballgames, but he's still working on his coverage. He made some errors in coverage the other day. They threw a little play-action pass at him and he didn't pick up the guy going down the middle of the field like he should. But some of that comes with experience. But there is no question that you have to have a solid linebacker inside and he's done a good job. All three of our linebackers have played well this year, Jamar, Gabe and Dominic. All three can run and all three tackle extremely well."

Is this a crazy college football season this year due to all the upsets?
"It's not crazy, it's just the reality of the game. This is not a surprise to coaches. College football, when you limit the scholarships, has gone into the exact same situation as the National Football League. Everybody has football players no matter what division that they are in, no matter what conference they are in. It's not a surprise. Anybody can beat anybody else. I think every coach in the country knows that. What amazes me is how many guys get overlooked. Even with all the information that we have, and all the technology that we have, how many guys are still overlooked? "

Who are two or three players on your team that you feel was overlooked by other colleges?
"I think Titus Brown is the most obvious. He is a guy who didn't get much attention but has made himself into a very good football player. Another guy is Mike Gates. He would have been even better if we had had the luxury of redshirting him when he first came in. In our program we have to find those guys. The success of our program depends on scouting raw talent, bringing that talent in and developing it over time. That's the only way we are going to have success because we are not going to consistently bring in the guys who are ready to step in and excel in this conference their first or second years."

Why do you think Titus was overlooked?
"Titus was playing linebacker and was probably a little bit of an in-between kind of guy. He probably went about 215 to 220. Those are the kind of guys that usually get overlooked. The Dominic Douglas of the world. He was a strong safety in high school, now all of a sudden he has grown into a 225-pound, 230-pound guy. That's what I mean by guys developing. You have to have some idea about projecting where guys are going to be a year or two from how. You are constantly looking for those guys. But it's not an exact science, so you hit and miss sometimes."

Talk a little about your offense and the adjustments you've made over the years.
"We came in with one idea that we wanted to do and instilled some things that we still want to do, but we've had to make adjustments based on the personnel that we've had to work with. And I think (offensive coordinator) Woody (McCorvey) and our entire offensive staff have done an excellent job of continuously making adjustments, particularly with the quarterback situation that we have had to deal with the last two years. Sometimes you have to find a way to deal with the hand that you are dealt and still find a way to win. And I think we have done a good job of that this year."

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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