Relf has seen very limited action this year, playing only in mop-up duty in the Southeastern Louisiana game. A classmate of Carroll's, he was redshirted in 2007 not for lack of ability but lack of pure quarterback experience in high school, where he was a wide receiver converted as a junior. His system did not do much to prepare him for college, either, but State couldn't resist recruiting Relf for his obvious gifts. In fact, Croom has referred to him before as "another Anthony Dixon" running out of the backfield.
"Certain things Chris does pretty well," Croom said. "When we signed Chris, he was a one-year quarterback out of high school, very athletic, has a big arm, runs the ball very well. We planned to bring him along at a slow pace, at his own pace, because we just felt we wanted to put him in a situation he'd have some success and get some confidence. And in a limited capacity I think he can help us. So we'll do some things and use him as a change of pace."
But what that pace, or change, might be, Croom wasn't letting on today, other than there will not be a set script Saturday. "I'll just go with my gut."
WELL GROUNDED: It's fair to say HB Robert Elliot has been a patient young man. After redshirting last season, the freshman did not play in the opening game and saw limited mop-up duty against Southeastern Louisiana, five carries in seven yards. Then when Elliot did get into the Auburn game the ball never came his way. But at Atlanta, his perseverance—and potential—got some rewards at last. Elliot finished with nine carries for 36 yards, including his first college touchdown, against Georgia Tech. Not only did he carry but Elliot caught, three passes for 34 more yards. Did the kid go wild with this first taste of success? "I took it pretty well," he said, staying low-key as ever. "I gained a lot of confidence off the last game."
See, young though he is, Elliot has matured already to the point he judges by the entire game's work and not just the good points. In fact he will talk as much, or more, about his mistakes at Atlanta than the score and yards. "I still had a lot of mental errors. I had three missed assignments and you can get beat any time with three missed assignments. So I've got to study my playbook harder and get those down."
So while we're being candid, what were those gaffes? Elliot counts them off. "I was supposed to be lined up outside and I lined up inside, that threw the whole play off. Y'all would never know it went on. Then I missed picking up a linebacker. And one time I ran the ball, I was supposed to be hitting the front-side and I ran the ball it back-side."
If this sounds too self-critical, remember that a year ago Elliot probably wouldn't have known what he was doing technically wrong—or right—any better than fans or reporters. It's a measure of the study he has already put into learning a SEC system that his critiques reflect, not a lack of confidence in his abilities at this level. And he does have confidence, such as on that six-yard scamper through traffic for State's only touchdown at Tech.
"I knew I was going to score, because the line was blocking well and opened up a huge hole," he said. "You could have run through that hole and scored!" A most charitable comment given the obvious age and condition of the interviewer, that. The point being though that Elliot wants it to be just the first of many such plays, and there must always be that first memorable play sometime.
"It meant a lot. Sitting out last year, I hadn't scored a touchdown in two years so it meant a lot." What will it take to get more touchdowns for himself and the entire offense? "We've got to get everything down-pat. Once we get all our missed assignments down we're going to be a great offense. Just stay confident, stay positive, don't ever think negative because we can turn this thing around."
And when it comes to confidence, no Dog gushes more of it than Elliot's elder cohort. For that matter the offense has the same sort of faith in Anthony Dixon that the junior halfback has in himself. "We could have a negative-15 rushing in a game," Elliot said, "and he'll know we'll come out and get 200 the next game."
GOT THAT FEELING: The biggest Saturday for State of course was by WR Brandon McRae, with 10 catches and 102 yards. Needless to say the double-digit grabs were his personal high here, since he had two catches all of 2007 and 50 yards. McRae had twice that output in this one contest, when it seemed every pass thrown came his way.
"I was just feeling it, I was in a zone," McRae said. "I don't guess they were scheming for me because everything was open, I just had to make the plays."
Now it wasn't as if McRae was Mississippi State's sole offensive target that afternoon. And nobody came back to the locker room whining that quarterbacks Wesley Carroll and Tyson Lee had singled-out #6 for special treatment. "Nah, it ain't like that!" McRae laughed. "We spread the ball out, I think Bell had seven catches, Jamayel had four, Rob had some. So we spread the ball out." Which is something State had done fairly well since last season, getting most of the available wide-, tight-, and backfield-receivers involved as available.
But if McRae is option-A this month, it's no surprise. After a frustrating sophomore season when he couldn't translate an outstanding spring camp into on-field results, the former Morehead State transfer has emerged as a quality SEC receiver. And this week he's second only to Kentucky's Dickey Lyons in catches per-game. Auburn did a good job trailing him, holding McRae to two balls; but he had eight for 72 yards against SELa. So big games aren't unusual now.
"When I'm out there I can tell, I can just feel it, like I'm going to have a blowout game today," he said. "I felt it big-time at Georgia Tech because out there warming up I felt the high intensity. I just went out there and did it."
McRae also benefits from State's emphasis on passing the ball so far this season. Not, he notes, that it is intentional; defenses have forced Dog quarterbacks to do more checking-off, or looking to second and third choices when the front is too forbidding. Don't misunderstand, McRae and his wideout partners like being so involved.
"But we wanted to be winning. Hopefully it's going to change around, we're going to give it all we've got. We really plan on being a balanced offense and putting more points on the board like we need to."
INJURY UPDATE: S Keith Fitzhugh (concussion), S Derek Pegues (ankle), and MLB Dominic Douglas (Achilles) were upgraded to full-status Thursday and should be in their accustomed starting spots Saturday evening. ORG Mike Gates (hamstring) was in limited-yellow but it expected to play at LSU, backing up starter Craig Jenkins.
Croom said today that KS Eric Richards will make the trip to Baton Rouge and be available in backup duty on kickoffs and punts.