Tuesday Bulldog Football Notebook

MISSING THE ACTION: How did Derek Pegues respond when he saw those two turned-over kicking plays on Mississippi State's season-opening night? "I was slapping myself," the senior safety said. "Because I felt if I had been there I would have made those plays and we probably would have been in position to win the game at the end."

But in no small part because of those fumbled-away kickoff and punt returns, Mississippi State was caught out of position in their 2008 debut. And Pegues was certainly not in his accustomed position on those two plays. Instead of lining up to field kickoffs and punts as he's done for three years, Pegues—suspended one game for missed spring classes--was back home with family watching the telecast. Or, most of it.

"It was tough, the last minutes of the game I had to walk outside, I couldn't watch the end of the fourth quarter."

Pegues will be in the game this Saturday evening at Scott Field, though. "It feels great to get out there," he said. "I'm ready to get my senior year kicked off." Pegues hasn't missed any practicing for the suspension, but knowing he wasn't going to play meant A) he did not practice much with the varsity for three weeks, and B) he was unable to assert any sort of leadership expected of an all-star candidate. Now, he can, and Monday Coach Sylvester Croom said Pegues was coming to the fore in practices.

"I knew everybody was down after the loss and they needed somebody to everybody up." Pegues said. "I felt that was my job this year and I was just trying to get everybody's spirits lifted." In fact he began doing that as early as Saturday night by texting teammates immediately after the loss. In the two Monday practices Pegues was much more vocal than the rest of August.

Being responsible for his own suspension might seem to undercut authority. But Pegues has shouldered the blame, made no excuses, and during preseason practiced as if he was still going to play in the opener. That has helped maintain his emotional position with the ball club.

"Coach Croom told me I'm still a leader on this team and I know my role. So I'll try to be that voice, just get the guys ready to play. I think we've handled adversity pretty good around here. It's just something that we've got to get over with. We're taking it one game at a time and we're moving on to Southeastern (Louisiana)."

Hopefully, without any further hangover from losing at Louisiana Tech. That one is done and if the Bulldogs try to re-play it they'll be in danger of even worse results this time around.

"We had a couple of setbacks," Pegues said. "You're not going to win with five turnovers, I don't care who it is. But we're going to move on and I feel we really can compete with the rest of the teams in the SEC."

FAMILIAR FACES: Saturday night will see a reunion of former Miss. Gulf Coast CC teammates, for Bulldog WR Co-Eric Riley. And not just teammates but in the case of safety Travis Williams, his one-time roommate at the Perkinston school. "Travis was my roommate and Marquis Powell was a good friend," Riley said. "They're good players, they're going to play hard. We're going to play hard."

Riley, a Lucedale native, roomed with Ocean Springs product Williams in the 2006 season at MGCCC before they went separate college-ways. Williams got two starts and played in ten total games, finishing fifth in team tackles. Powell, of Madison, started half the year before a season-ending injury. Now the trio get together on the field one last time, though on opposite sides of the action.

"We're speaking every day, talking about the game and stuff and how the season is going," Riley said. "It's positive talking about each other, but when Saturday comes it's all about business." And of course Riley won't mind doing his pass-catching business at the expense of former juco comrades. "I don't know yet which one's side I'll be matched , we'll find out though. We talked last night, it was back-and-forth. They're talking about they're going to win so I come back with we're going to win, too."

(NOT) HOLDING ON: Riley got his senior season off to a respectable start, catching two balls for 34 yards including a 26-yarder that was the longest grab of the game for State. But it was another play that is more remembered, for worse reason. A flanker-reverse by WR Brandon McRae in the second quarter advanced the ball to Louisiana Tech's one-yard line…but behind the play a flag had flown. McRae had come around an illegal block by Riley.

"I had a good grip on him," Riley admitted. "It was holding." State still got a first down as the hold was beyond the marker, but having 77 yards taken off the net-play was still painful. "So it'll never happen again," Riley said. "You'll never see that holding again."

That doesn't mean such plays won't be seen again this year. In the opener State's offense worked out of more formations, with more personnel combinations, than has been seen in entire seasons under this staff. Even setting aside gadget plays like the flanker reverse, or a handoff to the tight end for examples, the offense tried putting the ball all over the place by air and ground. Mostly air at first.

"They made us pass the ball, and we passed and did good on it," Riley said. "We enjoyed that, and we'd love to see it every game. We just have to execute on it."

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Much has been made, including here, of the play breakdown in State's opener. Of the 71 official snaps, forty produced passes and 31 rushes. And since there were three sacks and a couple of other quarterback keepers, the tilt was even more pronounced to passing plays. After-loss complaints State either, or both, committed too much to the passing game and got away from the ground game have dominated Dog-talking since.

But the straight statistics don't tell a straight story, nor are impressions accurate here. Croom said he finds such talk amusing, though he didn't smile much while saying. He could have just as correctly said ‘ironic' given what he's heard in previous seasons. Even the winning 2007 campaign.

"Last year, we ran too much. In our first ball game we didn't run enough," Croom said.

Yes, the coach said, State wanted to upgrade the passing attack this season because the tools and experience is there to do it. But this did not mean the Bulldogs went to Ruston planning on throwing as early or so often as they did. "A lot of the passes we had were run-pass checks," Croom explained. "The defense took the run away. I'm sure anybody that followed us last year knew that we go into a game wanting to run the football, to establish the run. They (LaTech) did put nine men at the line of scrimmage on several occasions, that's when we the most explosive gains in the passing game we've had."

Of course passing got the Dogs in eventual trouble with three interceptions by QB Wesley Carroll; and three sacks of alternate Tyson Lee. Still Croom insists the debut-game distribution was not any indication of a shift in play-calling philosophy. Or, that the big Dog in this offense is being ignored. "I'm not stupid enough not to give the ball to Anthony Dixon," Croom said Monday. "Though some people think I am." He also understands that fans do tend to get caught up in trendy technical talk they hear elsewhere.

"People watching ESPN and hear all that stuff about ‘so many touches', I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in finding a way to win the football game. nobody believes in running the ball more than I do. But what I do want to do is make sure it's 55-60% of our calls are runs. That's what is more important to me, to make sure when we call a game and in our game plan 55-60% of the plays are called runs. And they were."

WAITING IN THE WINGS: But Dixon (18 carries, 91 yards) might have to share some more touches anyway this week. There's a young runner Croom wants to see in action at last. "We're going to get Robert Elliot in the game. We're going to get him out there where he can run the football, because he can brings some explosiveness."

Redshirt Elliot was supposed to play in the opener but when Carroll and Lee began checking to passing, thus Tech began rushing the passer, there wasn't a role left for Elliot just yet. Because, for all his talents with the ball he is still not up-to-speed as a college pass-protector, something obligatory in this offensive system.

Meanwhile, PK Eric Richards awaits his college debut also. Redshirted with a broken foot last fall, Richards was in line to kick off the season last Saturday before a late-week hip problem he'd had during camp returned. Richards didn't tell the trainers until game-day, and missed the game entirely. Croom was unhappy about State's kickoffs, most notably the out-of-bounds bouncer by PK Adam Carlson after the Dogs had gone up 14-3. Nor was punting effective with a 31.9-yard average for P Blake McAdams. A healthy Richards would have kicked off and probably been subbed-in to punt late in the game. Croom hopes Richards gets himself ready for duty this time.

"If Adam is our kickoff man we will have to do some things different," Croom said. "We may have to squib kick, lob kick, we have have to do certain things. His leg just isn't strong enough to kick the ball into the end zone. Whereas if Eric is there and healthy he is a great weapon for us."

Not just kicking off, either, because if McAdams struggles again—especially with the hang-time goal of over four seconds—Richards will get his chance there, too.

INJURY UPDATES: Starting S Keith Fitzhugh and first LT Mark Melichar returned to full-speed for Tuesday, having taken it easy Monday afternoon with minor knee contusions.

There were three limited-duty players, all on defense all expected to play Saturday: WLB Dominic Douglas, DT Kyle Love, and reserve LB Jarvis Kyles.

OT Derek Sherrod is still in a red-cross shirt until the incision to clear up a foot infection over a week ago is fully-healed. Croom said today he hopes Sherrod can practice by Thursday.

WR Terrance Davis is still sidelined by a bad hamstring.


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