Loosening the reins

After fielding the "fun and gun" offense at Florida, Steve Spurrier installed a "cock and fire" attack at South Carolina.

Sylvester Croom's offense last fall at Mississippi State was more along the lines of "snooze and snore." Fans who like three yards and a cloud of dust surely nodded their approval. Fans who like big plays probably nodded off.

The vanilla approach offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey implemented was designed to ease the pressure on freshman quarterback Wesley Carroll, and it succeeded. The no-frills package produced a bowl bid and an 8-5 record, even though the Bulldogs ranked dead last among the 12 SEC teams in pass offense, dead last in total offense and 11th in scoring offense.

"The thing about what Coach McCorvey did – a huge factor in why we were successful – is that we didn't run any plays we weren't capable of running," Carroll recalled at the recent SEC Media Days. "We weren't going to force it by going four-wide and running four vertical routes. That's not part of our offense. Our offense is about moving the chains, controlling the clock and determining the flow of the game."

This season, however, Croom promises will be different.

"We have more speed at receiver," he said. "That's going to allow us to attack vertically a little bit more than what we have done. Not that we will force it, but when the opportunity becomes available he (Carroll) has that option. He has the green light."

Last year essentially was a season-long yellow light ... proceed with caution. After gaining valuable experience AND his coach's confidence in 2007, however, Carroll is ready to put the pedal to the metal. He'll still throw mostly dink-and-dunk passes but he'll be allowed to look deep on occasion, too.

"We've given him the green light to take those shots," Croom said. "If it doesn't work, we feel like our running game can come back and make it up on the next play. We didn't have those kind of options last year."

Option 1 and 1A last fall was tailback Anthony Dixon, who rushed for 1,066 yards and 14 touchdowns. The 6-1, 240-pound junior posted four 100-yard performances last fall, including a 108-yard effort in a 33-21 loss to Tennessee.

Dixon will be Option 1 again this fall, even though the passing game will play a bigger role in the offensive package. That means Carroll again will be more of a caretaker than a playmaker. But he's OK with that.

"Wes is a team player," Croom said. "Any time anybody does anything that seems to have another agenda or tries to elevate themselves above the team, then they're going to be called on that.

"Nobody in the program is bigger than Mississippi State. It's not about an individual. It's about Mississippi State. That's the way we are. That's the way we always will be."

Still, Croom says Mississippi State's best interest will be served by giving Carroll more freedom and responsibility in 2008. Is that truth or coach-speak? Based on spring drills, Carroll believes it is the former.

"It seemed like he put a lot more into my hands to make more reads at the line of scrimmage," the 6-1, 190-pound sophomore said. "Whether it's a pass that was called or a run that was called, we can always check off to something else. We can take on alert routes or hot routes more. We did that in the spring and utilized a lot more of our speed at receiver."

Still, you wonder: How much will Croom and McCorvey open up the offense in 2008? How much will Carroll stretch the field with deep balls? How much will Mississippi State improve on last season's putrid offensive numbers?

Tennessee fans will get a chance to judge for themselves when the Bulldogs visit Neyland Stadium on Oct. 18.


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