MSU-West Virginia Press Conference Transcript

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

Opening Statement:

"After watching our game Saturday against Tennessee, it didn't make the loss any easier because our guys played extremely well. And we still came up short. We had a number of guys play very well. (Starting defensive end) Avery Hannibal and our linebacking corps played extremely well. (Safeties Derek) Pegues, (De'Mon) Glanton and (Keith) Fitzhugh played very well. I can't say enough about the way our offensive line played. It was a tremendous performance. They protected the quarterback extremely well. They run-blocked extremely well. We were very fortunate to get our second line in and they gave us a shot. Guys like J. C. Brignone and Mark Melichar hadn't played a lot, but they played very well. (Tight end) Eric Butler had probably his best ballgame. I think the first play of the game he blocked a guy 20 yards downfield and never came off the guy. We had effort like that throughout the entire course of the ballgame.

"But again we came up short. We had a couple of breakdowns. And when you play teams like Tennessee if you lose your discipline at any point during the game it can kill you. And it did. On the, I think, 39-yard run by Foster, that was a big play in the ballgame. We had the play perfectly defended, but we just overran it. We took some poor pursuit angles and a great back like that who has great vision broke outside and made the play on us. We got beat on a deep ball early aginst (cornerback) Marcus (Washington). And we got beat on another one in the front of our bench where we didn't play our technique right. And those turned out to be big plays in the ballgame. But as disappointed as we were about losing the ballgame, it was probably, overall, our best game ... probably since we have been here.

"Captains for our game this week against West Virginia are Avery Hannibal on defense, Eric Butler on offense and Jamar Chaney for our special team units.

"I think everybody is well aware that we are playing one of the best teams in the country in West Virginia. They have exceptional speed in every area of the game. And that is our major concern going in.

"Pat White, their quarterback, and Steve Slaton, their running back, are two very outstanding players. Darius Reynaud is another guy who sort of gets overlooked because of that duo. But the three of those guys form a very explosive offensive unit.

"The thing that is a little different this year is they are even better on defense than they were last year. I think they have more speed, more athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. So, with explosiveness on offense and speed on defense which also translates to speed in the kicking game, it is no surprise that this team is one of the top teams in the country.

"Our offense is facing a scheme that we haven't faced this year except in practice because our defense runs a variation of what their defense does. They give you a lot of different looks in a three-four scheme. What compounds the problem of a normal three-four scheme where you have three down and four linebackers, is their outside linebackers are essentially big, strong safeties or big free safeties who play at the line of scrimmage as well as playing at linebacker depth.

"We just have to play our game, make sure we know exactly what we are doing. The mistakes that we made against Tennessee, we have to make sure we get those corrected. We made tremendous improvement during the course of last week's practice and we have to make that and much more improvement during this week's practice."

What is the difference in their backup quarterback Jarrett Brown and their starting quarterback Pat White?
"Jarrett Brown is a good quarterback and he's a tough guy, but Patrick White is special."

Among teams in the SEC, do they run similar formations and plays as Arkansas?
"I wouldn't say that. These guys are unique. Auburn did some of the things and Arkansas does some of the similar package, but the difference is Patrick White. That's the key to the whole thing. Here is a guy who is just as fast if not faster than (Arkansas') McFadden and he can throw the football and throw it extremely well. He's by far the best running-throwing combination in one person that I've seen recently unless you count a phenomenal guy like (NFL star) Vince Young. He's a smaller version of that kind of guy, one who can beat you with his arm and his feet. The first object of the day for our defense is to nullify his effectiveness. Without that, there is not much chance of stopping their offense."

What does freshman running back Noel Devine give them?
"He gives you another guy with speed. Their entire offensive unit has exceptional speed. But it starts with Slaton and White because they feed off of them. That's where it starts. (But with Devine) they have another guy who can step into the picture and give you another burst. It just goes on and on and on."

How much of your offensive struggles are due to the play of your receivers?
"Some of it has been due to just trying to find out who are the guys because we have been up and down and a little inconsistent. This spring we thought (Brandon) McRae had the best spring. And Tony (Burks) didn't have a good spring. So, we put Jamayel (Smith) from X to Y because we didn't want McRae to have to learn a lot. Then, we came back in the fall and McRae didn't play as well and Tony did. So, that put Tony back into the lineup and caused another switch. So, (we are) just getting the right guys in the mix and during the whole process Lance Long just keeps being Lance Long, just making plays. We have now pretty much got it solidified with Tony, Lance and McRae playing on the strong side and Jamayel, Aubrey and Co-Eric playing on the weak side. But we are still playing a lot of guys in different roles, trying to play to their strengths.

"And things we asked Mike (Henig) to do we didn't ask Wes (Carroll) to do. And things we asked Wes to do that we didn't ask Mike to do. We have, basically, been trying to run two different sets of things as we played both of them and Wes was learning. Now Wes is settling in as the quarterback, so we are now pretty much settling into what we are doing. And that's important. The reason we have run the ball so well is because we haven't changed anything since the spring. The passing game, because of using multiple people at wide receiver and at quarterback, we just never could lock into what our identity would be in it. But I think we have now done that and we are starting to see a little more effectiveness.

What is your opinion of Wes Carroll's progression this season?
"Wes has performed a lot faster than I thought he would. He has thrown the ball better. Coming out of high school, we knew about the intangibles qualities - his ability to manage the game. Those things weren't a surprise at all. He came from a top-notch program. And he was very well coached. He's had a lot of success playing against some of the best people around. Just to give you an idea of the program he came from, I think four other guys from his team are starting as freshmen on major college programs. That tells you the kind of program he comes from and the kind of maturity that is demanded from him in that program.

"When you bring in a young quarterback, basically, I try to test them in practice. If they can't handle the stress I'm going to put them under, they are sure not going to be able to handle what they have to do in front of 60,000 people. And I haven't been able to faze him, so I wasn't worried about that part.

"But he's thrown the ball better. He made a throw at South Carolina that really surprised me. He made one of the toughest throws you can make up there. And he continued to do that Saturday against Tennessee. That's when I stopped worrying about what we were asking him to do in the passing game.

I've got a followup to that question. Is his decision-making skill one of his strong points?
"That is a very strong point. Up to this point, I don't think he's gone to the wrong play with the ball yet. One of the most remarkable plays is probably our last gasp in the game the other day - he immediately went to the check-down to Stallworth. In fact, I found out that he alerted Stallworth before they left the huddle to be ready. That is a (Brett) Favreism there. When he came out of it, the ball just got tipped because we broke down in the protection slightly. If the ball doesn't get tipped we make that first down easily because Stallworth catches it on the run. That was an excellent play on Wes' part."

Are you trying to get your tight ends more involved in the passing game?
"We have been trying to get the ball to the tight ends. Sometimes they haven't been open and sometimes we haven't hit them. Saturday, we went out of our way to get the ball to our tight ends because we thought we had a significant matchup that we thought was in our favor, but the young man who was covering our tight ends went out of his way to make sure that didn't occur. He did extra things to make sure that didn't occur."

Will Justin Williams be returning kickoffs this coming weekend?
"Justin will not be returning kickoffs this week. He will go back to his normal position of being the right halfback and making our signal calls on the return. We will go back to Derek Pegues as the deep back and Lance Long will be his backup. We need some explosive plays somewhere in the game and, hopefully, he can give us that as a kick returner.

"The only reason we took Derek out of there is because he is playing so much on defense. And we felt like he was more valuable to us on kickoff coverage due to the returners we are facing. And ever since the game he dehydrated we just felt like we had to rest him. We've tried everybody else, but the only other guy (who has shown he can do it) is a freshman. And we don't want to use him because we are redshirting him. So, we will go back to Derek there.

"(Kick returning) is one of the areas that is important for us to recruit. We are at a point now in our recruiting where we can recruit guys for specialist type roles. We have to get more explosiveness in our return game. And we are actively recruiting two guys. If we don't get them, hopefully, some of the wide receivers and corners that we have recruited have enough explosive speed to make a difference in that area. Until then, DP will have to be that guy."

Talk a little about Jasper O'Quinn's performance this season.
"Jasper has been doing an excellent job for us. He's really picked it up after having an early season injury. He was really playing well before he got hurt. Then, he's had nagging injuries. What goes unnoticed is how well he is playing in the kicking game. He has done an outstanding job in the kicking game as a gunner on kickoffs. And he's playing well at corner. We'll see how well things go this week, but he very well could get the starting nod at right corner this week. He played very well last week. He's very discipline and he's a tough guy. For a small guy, he tackles extremely well."

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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