Wednesday Bulldog Football Notebook

A YEAR LATER: QB Wesley Carroll has just as much reason to look back on the win at Auburn as a turning-point, too, even if it was only three games into his college career. "It was the first game I had the majority of the snaps. I obviously got thrown-in there."

Twice, in fact; first after starter Mike Henig broke a finger on the opening series, and then when State picked off a fourth-quarter pass trailing 14-13. Fellow backup Josh Riddell had run the previous three series, but coordinator Woody McCorvey convinced the boss to bring Carroll back for the decisive possession.

The rest is history. "And more than anything I realized I didn't have to make every play," Carroll said. "There's nothing wrong with hitting the check-down and handing off to our backs because they can make a lot happen." Which they did as all ten snaps became handoffs. "It's all playing a role in this system."

Carroll anticipates plenty more handing-off this time around, too. Yet two games into 2008 he has thrown 48 of State's 67 passes; compared to 77 rushes. And since there have been some scrambles and sacks in that total, the play-calling has been just about 50/50 so far.

It isn't that McCorvey and staff are getting away from the proven strengths of Dixon-Ducre, the quarterback stresses. It is how the offense has matured in other areas that allows more balance, not to mention gives Carroll more comfort in making whatever checks and changes he deems right at the time.

"If you understand this offense, you love that. If you make the right read, it's a beautiful thing. We may line up, a pass may be called, but we may check to a run and it go for 20 yards. That's just as good as throwing the ball. And vice-versa. It's all part of the offense, it's not trying to force a play downfield and trying to hit a receiver up the sideline when they're playing cover-two. It's taking what the defense gives you and not pressing the issue."

TAKING TURNS: That said, Mississippi State clearly wants to force defenses to give in some other areas this year. Even Carroll, who often—and honestly—has said he'd be perfectly content handing the ball off every offensive play, likes the idea of throwing the ball around more often in 2008. Not for statistics, of course. Just for success.

"Hopefully we can throw in a little more pass plays this year and spread out the defense," Carroll explained. Because while last year's offensive line was able to make sufficient space against stacked defenses for the ground game to work, this attack can't be taken for granted against the SEC's physical fronts in 2008. Not yet.

So Carroll, and backup Tyson Lee, continue honing their passing plays. Besides, Carroll noted, it's already worked pretty well in the first two games. "A lot of that has to do with what we're capable of doing now, just because we worked on so much in the off-season. Timing is everything as most people will tell you, and the chemistry with these receivers."

Yes, the other end of the throw-and-catch formula. Through two games Carroll and Lee have been able to hook up with a variety of targets. Junior Brandon McRae has been at the forefront with 12 grabs for 132 yards; this after just two catches and 50 yards all last year. And senior Aubrey Bell has eight balls and 81 yards; in all 2007 he caught 14 for 186. And two more teammates in the rotation are averaging double-digit yards when they pull in a pass.

"You look at Aubrey and Brandon, who didn't catch many balls last year and now they look like stars," Carroll said. "Obviously Co-Eric Riley is coming along more and more, and we know what Jamayel Smith is capable of doing. This is the first time we've had four receivers playing SEC-caliber football all the time. We're only getting better."

A cranky hamstring has raised some concerns this week about McRae's status, or more accurately his speed, come Saturday, but based on practices he should be able to run by game-time. Yet Carroll said it isn't as if there is one or two ‘go to' guys on this receiver staff as in the past several years. And the quarterback has another hunch as SEC play begins.

"Brandon has done well, but I wouldn't be surprised to see another receiver break out this game."

INJURY UPDATES: A trio of starters were limited in Wednesday practices. WR Brandon McRae and CB Jasper O'Quinn have hamstring issues, and OG Mike Gates is protecting a sore shoulder. Croom isn't worried about their Saturday status.

"Nothing has changed since yesterday. They put a yellow (or purple for defense) jersey on them to remind the coaches not to push them too much." Besides, he added, "Everybody is sore right now" with the season underway.

TE Marcus Green is questionable for the Auburn game with his hurting hip, though. And freshman WRs O'Neal Wilder (knee) and Terrance Davis (hamstring) have not practiced with the varsity for over two weeks.

HART TO HEART: FB Brandon Hart didn't touch the ball last year. But he played his part in the 2007 victory at Auburn, whether as the blocking back on run and pass plays both as well as on special teams. And the win meant more to him than most because Hart very nearly cast his college lot with the other team. Up until the last weeks of 2005 signing season the LaGrange, Ga., product was leaning towards Auburn before changing course to Starkville.

So Hart is really looking forward to his last meeting with a Tiger team. But, more from a team context. "It means a lot, man. Going in we know they hold a grudge against us and that means we have to come even harder, and expect more out of us as a team."

Coming out of high school as a top power-back prospect, Hart might well have expected more statistically of his college career. In four seasons he's had 16 rushes for 34 total yards. Though, the senior did get to enjoy his first varsity touchdown this year, too, on a one-yard leap at Louisiana Tech. He's endured a broken leg as a true freshman at Arkansas, and lost his starting job in mid-2007. Yet Hart has come back from both setbacks, putting in an impressive summer and regaining his top status as a senior. And he has no regrets about his original choice of college.

"This is where I want to be. If I could go back and do it again I'd do the same thing. I'm happy about how it turned out, I couldn't have made a better decision. And I'm going to go out and show why."

RECORD RUNS: With two touchdowns (both rushing) against Southeastern Louisiana, HB Anthony Dixon is now tied for the most TDs in Mississippi State history with Michael Davis (1991-94) at 27 each. All of Davis' scores came on rushes, while Dixon has run the ball in 25 times and caught a couple of scoring passes. Coincidentally, Dixon has scored one touchdown of some sort for every college game he has played.

So Dixon now has sights set on breaking the overall TD record, and catching Davis' mark for rushing touchdowns. The real challenge is if he can become the top scorer of all-State-time, a category that obviously favors kickers. The record of 218 points is held by Brian Hazelwood, with Artie Cosby at 211 and Joel Logan 199. And while Jackie Parker (185) is fourth on the MSU list, he kicked 41 PATs to go with his touchdowns. Dixon has 162 points.

The junior also celebrated another milestone last Saturday when he became the #10 rusher in program history with 1,910 yards.

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