In pursuit of points

Two words you probably will not hear in connection with the Mississippi State football team anytime soon ... offensive juggernaut.

After finishing 109th among 119 Div. 1-A teams in passing offense and 112th in total offense last fall, the Bulldogs seemingly had nowhere to go but up in 2008.

Then again, maybe not. The early indications are that Sylvester Croom's attack unit could struggle just as mightily to move the first-down markers in '08 as it did in '07.

Believe it or not, the final score of Mississippi State's recent spring game was 6-0 ... IN OVERTIME.

Scoring six points in a spring game is almost unthinkable, since these intrasquad exhibitions favor the offense by banning stunts, blitzes, etc. Moreover, you've got some walk-on defensive backs trying to cover scholarship receivers, which generally pads the point total.

Incredibly, 26 carries produced 1 net rushing yard in MSU's spring game. Maroon quarterbacks Wesley Carroll (2 of 6) and Chris Relf (2 of 13) were a combined 4 of 19 passing. The only QB who provided any spark at all was the White Team's Tyson Lee, who completed 12 of 21 for 127 yards.

When Ellis Johnson left for South Carolina following the 2007 season, Croom elevated safeties coach Charlie Harbison to coordinate MSU's defense. From all appearances, Harbison's stop unit is going to be pretty salty in '08. You can't win if you can't score, however, and it appears that the Bulldogs are going to be hard-pressed for points again.

The fact MSU had virtually no offense last season, but still went 7-5, earned Croom recognition as SEC Coach of the Year. The fact MSU's offense appears no better this season could earn him a quick return to the hot seat he occupied in 2005 and 2006.

Noting that the Maroon Team (featuring mostly first- and second-team offensive players) was guilty of four turnovers and a rash of penalties, Croom conceded that the spring game performance was "consistent" with previous scrimmages and "something we've got to get straightened out."

If it doesn't get straightened out, redshirt freshman Eric Richards, who missed field-goal tries of 52 and 57 yards in the spring game, may prove to be MSU's chief offensive weapon this fall.

Despite the offensive futility exhibited in the spring game, Croom remains upbeat about his attack unit.

"I'm not judging anything based on today," the coach said. "It's not a true picture of where we are."

It better not be.


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