"I find it amazing how things have changed," the third-year coach said. "Winning used to be very enjoyable and the highest priority and very entertaining. Now it is how you win, how much you entertain, who plays, how much they play, and that is part of it. When I hear people criticize (No. 3) Auburn's offense and their coaches and how they play and (Penn State head) coach (Joe) Paterno having to explain why he runs an offense like he does, who should he have to explain it to? He is one of the greatest coaches in the game. He should not have to explain anything to anybody. I think fans don't understand that we do what we can do with what is available to us at that particular time to give us the best chance at that time, on that day, to win the game. That is all you can do."
In the early part of the season, that meant playing current quarterback Omarr Connor at receiver while sophomore Mike Henig took the snaps. When Henig suffered a broken collarbone in a 15-0 opening-game loss against South Carolina, MSU made the switch to Tray Rutland, who hit 12 of 25 passes for 82 yards with one interception in the 34-0 home loss to Auburn. When it failed to score in the game, Croom switched Connor from wideout to quarterback, giving Mississippi State a duel run-pass threat that could hurt West Virginia's 3-3-5 odd stack defense.
"One of the things early on that really cost us was injuries," Croom said. "The Mike Henig injury really hurt us because he was looked upon as the leader of our football team. We had to go with others because Omarr was our best receiver at that time. But now that Omarr is at quarterback and our defense has played better and gave us some stability, I feel good about our football team. Despite our record we have gotten better every week. Some things have happened that are out of our control, but that's life. I am pleased with where we are. I just wish we had some key guys that were full speed."
The switch, Croom said Wednesday, is permanent. Even if Henig can return by the end of the season, he will be no higher than the No. 2 signal caller. The Bulldogs (1-3), which got their first win of the season last Saturday via a 16-10 overtime victory at Alabama-Birmingham, have moved the ball more successfully under Connor, a 6-0, 223-pound senior who is difficult to bring down in the open field.
"Omar is playing better than he has ever before at quarterback," Croom said. "There are two reasons. The conditioning he got from playing wide receiver everyday has made him a lot more mobile. And his being able to at least spend one day a week in quarterback meetings, then play receiver and understand the patterns and where everybody is and have a better understanding of where to go with the football has helped. Reading coverage as a wide receiver and running it physically is one of the best things he has done since he has been here. He can make quick and accurate decisions. He is much better now than at anytime last year."
As is Mississippi State. While the ‘dogs are not near the top of the SEC, they are much improved. Having had less than 85 scholarships because of NCAA violations before Croom arrived has hurt depth, and, in his third season, the Alabama grad will not have his full scholarship allotment until next season. But with Connor, who made the move to quarterback in his second year and has since bounced back and forth between there and receiver, Croom has his first legit major player that he can build around, if only for the remainder of this season. He started eight games under center last year, hitting 86 of 167 passes for 903 yards, eight scores and five picks. Thus far this year he is a very solid 29 of 48 (60.4 percent) for 356 yards with one interception. He is the team's second-leading rusher with 116 yards on 21 carries. He caught eight passes as a receiver.
"You can't get to the long-range things until you take care of the business of today," Croom said. "I constantly remind the team where we are and I remind our team and prospects that we are in a rebuilding process. We just now got back to a full 85 scholarships next year. We are playing a lot of younger players who have talent but are inexperienced. Our depth is not what we would like it to be when you consider the teams we are playing against. I was looking at our game film of LSU last year and we are a lot better football team than we were. That is all we can do is get better each week and continue to improve our program. That's one thing I like is that we have gotten better each week. They have come out and practiced hard."
Mississippi State plays SEC foe LSU in Baton Rouge at 12:30 p.m. EST on Saturday before hosting No. 4 West Virginia at 2:30 p.m. EST on Oct. 7 in the Mountaineers' (4-0) last non-conference game. WVU is off this weekend. BlueGoldNews.com will have another MSU update next week as it preps for the Mountaineers.