One on One With MSU Coach Sylvester Croom

Gene's Page talked one on one with Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom.

How much will Robert Elliott play this coming game?
"He is going to play a lot more than he has been playing. We are going to cut the Deuce loose."

What does he offer compared to the other backs?
"He is just like the energizer bunny. Of our backs, he is the hardest working running back that we have had since (Jerious) Norwood left. Norwood is probably a little bit stronger. And he has limitations, particularly in protection, that has made me hesitate in some situations. But I'm not going to be hesitate this week. We had a couple of special packages that he was going to be in (during the Auburn) game, but we got away from those personnel groups. But this week we are going to substitute him in there no matter what personnel group goes in."

If Anthony Dixon is healthy, are you still going to use Robert?
"We are going to use Robert regardless."

It seems like your attitude toward using Robert in a game has completely changed. What is the reason for that?
"We need a spark. And I think the only way he is going to give us that spark or become the player that I think he can be is to put him in a game and find out. He is at that point now - he has practiced well, he has practiced hard and he has shown that, even if he makes a mistake, it is going to be a wide opened full speed mistake. And I can live with that. And I trust that he will try to do everything right 100% of the time. So, if he makes a mistake, it's my mistake."

What is the attitude of the team?
"I think I said this earlier, we are more comfortable handling adversity than we are success. One of the things that endears this team and these kids to me is that they are fighters. They will continue working, there is never any lack of effort, no quit in them. And I think some things that have happened to us early on has done nothing but bring us closer together and even more committed to staying on track and playing it one game at a time."

You talk about adversity, and I know you don't want to offer excuses, but when you look back you've had several key players who were kicked off the team or suspended. After three games in the season, do you realize now that has affected the performance of the team?
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy. You don't lose a Mike Brown and it not hurt you. You don't lose a Quentin Wesley who was playing as good as he has ever played and it not hurt you. Rodney Prince would have added significant depth to our defensive line. Anthony Johnson would have added depth to our secondary. Jamon Hughes would be starting right now at middle linebacker with the loss of (Jamar) Chaney.

"I knew those things were going to hurt us, but, at the same time, there is no use crying about it. Our guys made the mistakes that put us in this situation and we have to deal with it. I look at those things just like I do injuries."

And you've had a lot of injuries this year.
"We had one major injury last year and that was Anthony Johnson. I was afraid of that going into this season because it has been my experience that when you go through a year with no injuries, you had better look out the next year. It all evens out. When good fortune happens to you, you revel in it and be thankful about it, because the worm is definitely going to turn. And it has turned on us this year.

"You can't minimize the loss of injuries. Even after getting (Derek) Sherrod over to left tackle, we lost him for two and a half weeks. And he made seven of his eight minuses in the first 12 plays of this last game. And he never misses his assignments. That was probably the lowest grade since he has been here."

How did he do after those 12 plays?
"After that, he had no more mental errors. He was the old Sherrod. But, it hurt us in those first few plays. That's what missing two and a half weeks does. Anthony Dixon missed two days of practice last week and he wasn't himself. Then he gets hurt again in the ballgame.

"But those are things that you have to deal with. And you still have to find a way to win despite those things. There is no use crying about it because those things are going to happen. When it happens to the other team nobody puts an asterisk by it when they win. And when it happens to us nobody is going to put an asterisk when we lose. That's part of life - bad things are going to happen. You just keep fighting and try to find a way to win."

I've got a question about Tyson Lee. It seems like you were ready to alternate him with Wesley Carroll at the start of the season, then you decided not to. What happened?
"Early on, I was going to use two quarterbacks on a normal rotating basis, but I didn't feel like that was the best thing for us after we lost the first ballgame. I felt like Wes gave us more versatility as far as running the option and other things we are doing. Last year, Wes made a lot of plays in what we call our ride option series where he handed the ball off or kept the ball and ran with it. That's not one of Tyson's strengths. His strength is throwing the football. And when we put him in the game, and that doesn't mean we won't put him in this week, we will play to his strength.

"But I'm still not sure if (using two quarterbacks) may not be the best thing for us as we go on during the year. But Wes is going to be our starting quarterback unless I decide later on to change that. If I put Tyson or Chris Relf in the game, it has no bearing on Wes. It is because I feel like we need to do something different. I am going to put the guy in the game who I feel gives us the best chance to win even if it means putting one in one play and putting one in the next play.

"There is never going to be a quarterback controversy because I'm not going to let that happen. And that is the great thing about those three kids - they are team players and they aren't going to let that happen either."

Did you think about putting Tyson in during the Auburn game at any time during the game?
"Yeah, there was a point during the game when I thought about it. But it doesn't just tie into him - it's how our protection is going as well. And Tyson was going to be throwing the football. If our defense hadn't been playing so well, I would have probably done it. If it had been a true shootout there is no question I would have put Tyson in and let him sling it all over the place."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the sports network. You can contact him by email at

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