Dogs Take Early Look At Alabama Gameplans

At first response, Keith Fitzhugh says that the Mississippi State mindset this open date is divided "half and half" between anticipation of next week's game at Alabama and the Bulldogs' own concerns. Then upon further thought, the senior safety adjusts. "It's more on us," Fitzhugh said. "I think because we know the little things we have to fix, the key things that help us get over the edge."

Mississippi State continued working this week on some things that might provide and edge going into the last three games of the 2008 season. With no game this weekend the Bulldogs have the luxury of setting a different pace, which on Monday and Tuesday meant practice sessions lasting less than two hours. And Wednesday will wrap up the work-week, at least for actual practices, with another afternoon session, as Coach Sylvester Croom will only ask his team to lift and run on Thursday-Friday before taking a short weekend break.

"It's a little different," said Croom of this open-date schedule. Normally the Bulldogs would have taken Monday off, practiced two afternoons and Thursday morning, and run on Friday. Not this time. "It's getting late in the year and I didn't want to get them up real early on Thursday," Croom said, adding "Our coaches still need Thursday and Friday to go recruiting." So the staff will be hitting the road a morning earlier than usual, a good move with high school and junior college seasons coming to their ends soon.

As for Tuesday's workout, it was a divided approach just as with the other days' plans. As far as the Alabama game-plans the Bulldogs have been introduced to first- and second-down strategies already. "We're really trying to get the bases of what we're going to do in the game down and get a lot of reps," Croom said, "try to eliminate any missed assignments. And anything new in the gameplan, we want to look at it now and make sure we like it. So when we come back on Monday, we really get an extra day on the gameplan."

At the same time the Bulldogs have been brushing up on some fundamentals that have been unexpected problems in recent games. And on defense it has been the lack of sure-stop tackling that cost the Dogs dearly in losses to Tennessee and Kentucky. So, Fitzhugh said, it has been back to basics. "Just playing fast, getting to the ball, trying to make all our tackles, pursuing and reading the offensive schemes they have and learning the new plays Coach (Charlie) Harbison has for us right now."

There is another fundamental being emphasized at the moment, both on the practice field and off it. At 3-6 overall and 1-4 SEC, this season is not playing out as the Bulldogs anticipated. Expected, even, coming after the successes of the 2007 campaign. The reversal of fortunes has been hard on everyone involved, yet moreso to the younger pups. Interestingly, the older Dogs who endured the struggles of previous years are handling this more with poise than frustration.

"It is a lot left this season," Fitzhugh said. "And the older guys, we let the young guys know we've been through this before. To not give in to the record right now, because it's a mental thing more than a physical thing. I tell the guys just stay up and keep on playing football, this is the game we love to play. So don't give in to the record because we're a better team than that. As long as we fix the mistakes we've made, we'll be alright."

And this is how Mississippi State is also approaching their pending matchup with currently #1-ranked Alabama. Because after all, many of these Bulldogs were on the field or at least the sidelines two years ago when they scored an upset victory in Tuscaloosa.

"It's another SEC team and we're a SEC team also," said Fitzhugh. "So we have to go out there and give it our all."

A couple of starters were limited in Tuesday drills. WLB Karlin Brown (back) and S Derek Pegues (muscle strain) had low-impact afternoons purely for precautions. OG Mike Gates stayed in the training room for continued treatment on the turf toe he will have to play out the season on.

With Pegues not participating, kickoff returns were handled by a pair of true freshmen, WRs Arceto Clark and Delmon Robinson.

The first offensive line was the same as on Monday when nine-game starting center J. C. Brignone moved to left guard, with D.J. Looney promoted to #1 center. RT Quentin Saulsberry, RG Craig Jenkins, and LT Derek Sherrod rounded out the first unit. With Brignone's move to his old job, Anthony Strauder was second left guard while Chris Spencer was the second center. Lack of production at left guard has motivated this off-week move, though with Gates healthy it is just as likely he moves up to first RG with Jenkins going over to LG, where he already rotates this year, and Brignone stays at center.

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