December 26th Bowl Press Conference

Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom talked to the media about his team's upcoming Liberty Bowl game against the University of Central Florida.

Opening Comments:

"Up to this point our players and staff have really enjoyed the hospitality that we have received in Memphis. The hospitality that Memphis has shown us and that the Liberty Bowl committee has shown us has been excellent. It couldn't have gone any better. Our players are enjoying being in Memphis. We even had a great time being here on Christmas Day. The players and coaches and their families were able to spend Christmas dinner together. Our practices have gone extremely well. The hospitality of Rhodes College has been great. Everything has gone perfect to this point. The main thing now is to win the football game. If that happens, then this would have been as good of a bowl game as I have ever been involved in."

Q&A

I know you have gone against some of the best athletically talented players in the nation in the SEC. But how does UCF running back Kevin Smith compare to those running backs?
"Kevin Smith is an SEC-quality back. There is no question about that. That says a lot about him because, year-in, year-out, we have some of the best backs in the country. All you have to do is talk about the two at Arkansas, McFadden and Jones, and now we have the young kid at Georgia. I would put Kevin Smith in that group.

"The thing that impresses me about Kevin Smith is his vision. No matter where the crack is in a defensive scheme, if there is one he never misses the read. He is always finding the hole. And he has the explosiveness to get through the hole and into the second level of the defense. That is what is impressive to me."

What is the status of defensive end Titus Brown?
"You are always concerned about him due to the surgery, but our medical team told me that he would be ready to play. And Titus told me he's going to play. But I don't expect him to be 100%. I've already told our defensive coaches that if we need to rest him, rest him on first down because we have some guys who can play equally as well against the run. But I don't expect him to play as much as he usually does. That would be asking too much of him."

Talk about your relationship with UCF head coach George O'Leary.
"You can't be around George very long without laughing. And sometimes the joke might be on you. You just never know. He's a dear friend who is a caring person. He has a great wit about him. It's fun to be around him. But I've always been impressed with him as a coach. George is one of those guys who takes the game seriously, but doesn't take himself so seriously."

Now that Derek Pegues has decided to stay at Mississippi State, what can he mean to your program next year?
"If you are referring to him going pro (early), that wouldn't be smart on their part to go pro without talking to me about it. I think I have a pretty good idea about being able to tell them what kind of money they can make in the pros. If they can make some real money in the pros, I will be the first one to tell them to go (early).

"Derek is the quarterback of our secondary. He is a huge, huge asset to us. While his physical skills are a big part of it, it's his knowledge of the game and his experience and leadership skills as a high school quarterback that makes him so good back there. And he loves to play the game. If he plays up to his ability next year, then he has a chance to play at that next level. He has a long ways to go."

When you go against the nation's top rushing back, do you stuff the box and let Kyle Israel try to beat you with the throw?
"We are going to have 12 men on the line of scrimmage (laugh)."

Do you think UCF's secondary is being overlooked?
"Their entire defense is good. You don't win a championship unless your defense is good, particularly a George O'Leary defense. There is no George O'Leary defense that has not played good defense. This is a fundamentally sound football team. They don't beat themselves. They have an excellent kicking game. They have two returners that can score anytime they touch the ball."

Evaluate your offense as of today?
"I feel good about where we are right now because we have some stability at quarterback. Injuries hurt us last year and this year, but Wesley Carroll's performance this year has allowed us to stabilize our offense and give it an identity. We gotten the option a little more involved. We've become a drop-back team that can run some option. I learned when I coaches the defense at Alabama if you can be a really good drop-back passing team and your quarterback can run just enough that makes defenses assign option responsibilities, it makes it extremely tough on defenses. That's what we really want to become. We also want to spread the field. We'll always do that. We'll do it in this ballgame. Something that we want to get more into is our five wide receiver package."

Who will your fullbacks be for this game?
"Brandon Hart will be the starter and Arnil Stallworth will be his backup. Jeremy Jones will be the third guy."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.


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