"I believe that about them anyway, but I wanted to talk to them, if they had any ideas or things they wanted to voice that they would have that opportunity." And, the committee did have one obvious, if intangible, question for their coach.
"What they related to me was simply this, they didn't understand some things happening. It seemed that things bad were happening. I said guys, I know what you mean, I feel the same way," Croom said.
"But by the same token you have to think about this, we had some mighty good things happen to us last year that probably were unexplainable. In the Ole Miss game we're playing hard and we're down, (if) we don't get a chance on that 4th-and-1 we may not win that game. But that was an opportunity, and we took advantage of it. I said right now I don't think we're taking advantage when opportunities present themselves."
Which Croom now believes is the underlying issue. Especially after reviewing last year's season-opening loss to LSU. He was breaking down that video for scouting purposes, but also noticed something else over the course of that 45-0 rout that he brought to the Monday meeting. "I said the only thing I see different with you guys this year is I don't think we're quite playing with the intensity we played with. Even when we lost the LSU game that was playing with a mission. And I don't know if we're playing quite that way right now. The only way I know is a ‘kill or be killed' attitude. It was as if you played every play as if it were the last play you were ever going to play. And that's what I'm asking, prepare to play every play of the game as if it were the last play you're ever going to play."
A GROUP THAT only meets on home Saturdays is the one making the most noise about a 1-3 start. Croom has heard from them, too. "Our fans, no doubt about that, they're frustrated. And I understand that. Because we all expected to be in a better situation than we are right now."< p> Certainly squad and supporters alike did not imagine three losses in the first four games. But what is stirring public ire most, though it is completely typical of Mississippi State football for most of its history, is continued lack of offense. Of points on the scoreboard. The Monday night coach's call-in show was dominated by questions pointed at this side of the squad, and towards the end Croom made the comment—when asked what sort of changes were in store—that he was the offensive coordinator. A job title held by quarterbacks coach Woody McCorvey, who still speaks for the offense as always.
Asked to expound today, Croom did. Completely. "I'm the offensive coordinator," he said, then, "I'm the bus driver, I'm the equipment man, I'm the lawn guy, I'm the secretary. I'm everything. Because whatever is not going right, is me."
The point being, Croom explained, that responsibility has to stop at the very top. There are professional staffers filling all those roles, from steering the bus to trimming the turf much less calling the plays. But it is up to the head coach to accept the ultimate charge…especially when there are problems to correct. It just comes with the job and title. But, Croom added, it is also his responsibility not to do anything for non-football reasons.
"I constantly get the question what changes are we going to make. I'm not going to make changes just to be making changes. I can get upset and go out there, put this player on the bench or get rid of this coach. But if I don't see that as a problem, why do that? There has to be a reason for making changes. That's what I meant."
Not just a reason, but a time-and-place. Croom has changed aides before, not often but in a couple of cases where he saw the reason to do so. That will happen, he reminded, following his own interview and review with every staffer, and if warranted. If at the end of the season I feel that needs to be done, I will what needs to be done. Right now I don't see that need, so I'm not going to do that."
"I do want people to understand, too, that is the decision I have to make. I will make those decisions when the time comes. I want our coaches and players to know I have confidence in them, and I expect them to continue to fight on and do their job day-by-day and do it with enthusiasm. And it's pretty hard to do those kinds of things with enthusiasm if the coaches and players are worried about me walking in and making a change with them."
VIRTUAL, AND REALITY: He's never been to Tiger Stadium in person. For that matter he's not even discussed the place with elder Bulldogs who have made trips to Baton Rouge. But QB Wesley Carroll isn't completely unfamiliar with this weekend's venue. "The only thing I've actually seen is in the game NCAA (Football ‘09)!" Carroll grins. Which, he adds, even notes how Tigers prefer evening games "Because they supposedly play better. I don't think that matters." On the video game, that is, since the technology doesn't seem to factor in any home-field advantages and Carroll's ‘team' has won games in the Tigers' den.
"Oh yeah, I went undefeated with Mississippi State in Heisman mode! Clearly it was a well-played game!"
Back to reality, though. Carroll doesn't need to have been on the real field or heard the live crowd to understand what is in store for guests on a September Saturday evening. And he can't wait. "It's going to be exciting. Not many people in all of college football get the opportunity to play at a place like that. It's a great college football atmosphere and I know the guys are eager to play there. Obviously it's an advantage to them having the upbeat crowd they have, we'll have to do everything we can to put that out of our focus.
"The thing is, once the game starts it doesn't matter if it's morning, day, or night, the game will be on and that's all that matters."
FRIGHT NIGHT: Coach Sylvester Croom arrived for Tuesday's press conference a couple of minutes early. Maybe, because he was ready to turn off the office video. "I just got through watching a horror film," he told reporters. "The ‘Return of Holliday' and it's very scary."
If anyone standing 5-5 and weighing 160 pounds can make grown men quake in fear, it is LSU's return star Trindon Holliday. A five-time track all-American, he was third at the June NCAA meet in the 100 meters and ran a leg on the championship 4x100 team. Holliday is averaging a SEC-best 27 yards on punt returns this junior season with a 92-yard touchdown to his credit. He doesn't rank in the league's kickoff return stats, since teams don't get to kick off against LSU very often this year, but is a pure threat there also.
"As good as LSU is, that's probably the most frightening aspect of this team," Croom said. "Punt return, kickoff return, and they get the ball in his hands on offense. We don't have anybody that can catch him. So we've got to do an exceptional job in the kicking game, make sure to put the ball in situations where he doesn't get hands on it…and if he does make him have to work real hard to get it."
Linebacker Dominc Douglas plays on many kick-coverage situations, so he's getting an eye-full of Holliday this week too. "I know he can make a juke move or anything, so we're all trying to carry out our assignment, get down the field as quick as possible, swarm him and get to the ball."
LINING UP: Even allowing for the unique nature of Georgia Tech's option offense, giving up 438 rushing yards was tough for Mississippi State's defense to take. Especially as in the previous three games they had allowed a total of 288 yards. And Tech's tally hurt all the worse because it was a school-record, not the kind teams like to keep.
And now the Dog defense will face the #17-ranked rushing attack in the land in LSU, with league-leading runner Charles Scott (#7 in the NCAA stats this week at 131 yards). But at least they won't have to worry as much about covering sideline-to-sideline; no, the Tigers have the muscle to come right at the opposition and do it well, which means good, old man-on-man matchups for the defensive line.
Speaking of matchups, where will DL Cortez McCraney line-up this week? Anywhere he's needed, the senior said. "Like I tell my team, I'll play d-end, nose guard, d-tackle, whatever because I just want to win." Win both his matchup and the game, he means, whoever and wherever.
McCraney has become the most versatile Dog on the line this year. A defensive tackle in the three-man front his first college season at Memphis, he was converted to an end at State and played it all last season. Now as a senior he really has played all three of those type slots, with State alternating between odd and even fronts. If anything, there has been more use of the three-down scheme than the four-front officially listed as the base defense. And in this, McCraney more often than not is a nose-guard. Or nose–tackle.
"We're just doing different schemes, trying to give the offense problems," says McCraney. "Whatever coach calls, cinco, base, whatever, I'm trying to contribute to the team." His own versatility has allowed State more flexibility up-front, too, a must given how much substituting goes on in games now.
"Coach Turner has been doing a great job putting us out there, mixing and matching, because we've got a lot of experienced guys and we're trying to stay fresh. And we have a great rotation."
Out of curiosity, does McCraney have a preferred position? "I just like being on the field, to be honest! I just like playing. I love when they ring those cowbells and scream ‘defense,' I just want to play!" Sure, but what about this weekend when cowbells won't be numerous or even audible most of the time in notorious Tiger Stadium? All the better, McCraney said.
"There'll be some booing, they won't like us. I hope it's their homecoming so it will be a lot of people!" Unfortunately, LSU changed their homecoming game from this week as originally scheduled to the make-up game with Troy on November 15.