Inside My Head

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A Near-Perfect Game. Have We Turned The Corner?

Posted by Kevin on October 30, 2007

Wesley Carroll

 

 

Last week I commented on State coming up short in big games and playing down to lower teams. You could go back several years and look at a play here or a play there that would have completely changed the outcome of a game for State, yet the breaks never went their way and they imploded after bad plays.

 

Coach Sylvester Croom has been preaching for several years now that the team has improved, the players don’t give up like some teams did before he arrived on campus. I wanted to believe him, but that’s a hard sell to make when you watch the team lose every week.

 

Entering the 2007 campaign, Croom once again harped on the team being improved and that we’d finally get to see his West Coast offense. On opening night in front of the entire nation, Michael Henig promptly threw six interceptions as LSU trounced State 45-0. An ass kicking to say the least, but you never would have known it in talking to Croom and some of the players. They’d just been blown out, but all they could talk about was the improvement they could see in the program. Huh?

 

Enter a revenge game with Tulane, a game that could no longer be labeled a gimmie. State was all over Tulane from the opening whistle and won convincingly 38-17. It was Tulane, though. Auburn loomed in week 3.

 

A trip to the plains to play an Auburn program that has owned Mississippi State for the previous six years looked like a sure loss at the beginning of the season. But a heavy dose of confidence from the players, and Auburn struggling to start the season gave a glimmer of hope to some Bulldog faithful. Starting QB Michael Henig broke a bone in his throwing hand on the opening drive and all hope seemed lost from my perspective. But reserves Wesley Carroll and Josh Riddell, plus an outstanding defensive stand proved to be just enough to steal one from the Tigers. The Dogs had plenty of chances to cave in like Bulldogs teams of recent past, but they refused to give up. Maybe there’s some truth to the sunshine Croom has been blowing up our asses?

 

Bad plays finally did catch up with State against South Carolina. After taking the lead in the 3rd quarter, State had a breakdown in the punting game that lead to a blocked punt deep in our own territory. Everyone in the stadium knew what was coming next. Spurrier always goes for the jugular after a turnover, and sure enough, Chris Smelley hooked up with Kenny McKinley on the very next play for a Carolina touchdown that deflated any momentum State had going. State never threatened again in this game, and the feeling of 3-win season was back.

 

I predicted early in the season that Phil Fulmer would get Croomed in Starkville when Tennessee came to town. Croom seems to get someone like that each year and Tennessee was looking ripe for a major upset. State was competitive but just couldn’t hang with a much deeper team. I also have to question a lot of coaching decisions in this game that never sparked the team or gave us a chance to be competitive.

 

Once again, State proved how one bad quarter of football can ruin an entire game at West Virginia. Presented with several golden opportunities on WVU mistakes, State could do absolutely nothing and found themselves trailing 21-0 before the stands were even full.

 

By week 8 going into Kentucky, Carroll had emerged as the starting quarterback with Henig still unable to contribute and Riddell out for the season with a torn ACL. Wesley Carroll, a true freshman 3rd stringer, running our offense. But you’d never know it to watch him play. I said it many weeks ago – Carroll was the man. It doesn’t matter that he can’t throw the ball 60 yards down field or run with 4.4 speed. He’s smart; he’s poised; he manages the game efficiently and effectively. As a true freshman. Exhibit one was early in the Auburn game when he came off the bench after Henig was hurt. An Auburn defensive lineman deflected a Carroll pass right back to him. Instead of panicking and trying to throw the ball again (which would be a penalty) or just falling on the ground, Carroll immediately tucked the ball and got what yardage he could. The kid obviously knew the rules and reacted under pressure. Also note that Carroll has now attempted ~137 passes without being intercepted…. as a true freshman 3rd stringer…. in the SEC.

 

It would take a perfect game for State to beat Kentucky on the road. The offense would have to have sustained drives that ate up valuable minutes from the game clock. The defense would have to force turnovers, and the offense would have to capitalize on those turnovers by scoring points. The special teams units would have to hold onto the ball and keep Kentucky from the big return. That’s an awful lot to ask of a team – perfection in all three phases of the game. Near perfection is what we got.

 

I can’t call it a perfect game because we did fumble the ball five times. Starting running back, Anthony Dixon, fumbled three times himself. Fortunately, we only lost one fumble. The offense did it’s part, keeping Kentucky’s high powered offense on the sidelines by controlling the game clock for 34+ minutes. State’s rushing game gritted out 200 yards and Carroll produced a nice 17-for-28 passing game for 152 yards. The offensive line also protected Carroll all game, yielding no sacks. But perhaps most importantly, the offense finally took advantage of turnovers. The defense turned in their best game of the season in holding Andre Woodson to only 230 yards passing, sacking him three times, and forcing three interceptions. Through the first seven weeks, Woodson had only thrown four interceptions on the season.

So, here we are…. five wins. One more win in three games for bowl eligibility. I’ve learned never to say never, but beating Alabama looks very doubtful, although we do get them after playing LSU which will no doubt be a very physical game. We also get them at home which helps. State has a history of playing poorly in Little Rock, but I also never would have imagined we would win on the road at Auburn and Kentucky this year. It’s possible. And then there’s the Egg Bowl against Ole Miss, a game I’m confident we will win. There will be too much on the line for State to lose that game. We will either be faced with having to win to become bowl eligible, or win to get 7 victories which would lock up a bowl birth.

I’m still not a Croom fan, nor am I a fan of this West Coast offense junk, but I am a loyal Bulldog fan. If I have to endure Croom and a boring offense to see my Dogs win then so be it.

P.S. strep throat sucks.

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