Archive for August, 2008

Notes & Numbers

August 31, 2008

Here are some bitter leftovers from Saturday:

Tay Bowser‘s blocked extra point kick was the first one in four years for MSU. The last time? Against Maine. Maybe they should de-emphasize that drill.

• Speaking of 2004, that was the last time Louisiana Tech kicker Brad Oestricher had made a field goal. He made three Saturday, from 48, 28 and 50 yards. Don’t know his story, but I’m sure it’s an interesting one.

• Coming in, WAC teams were 1-9 vs. SEC opponents over the past 10 years, with the average margin of victory 27.9 points.

• The last SEC team to fall victim to Tech, before MSU, was Alabama in 1999. The Crimson Tide went on to win the SEC championship that year. So hey, there’s something.

• Tech had the ball for 10:28 of the fourth quarter. For the game, MSU won the time of possession battle, 31:26-28:25.

I’ll check back after Sylvester Croom‘s 10 a.m. teleconference.

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The Morning After

August 31, 2008

Just a couple of quick thoughts before I hit the road. But first, here are the stories:

MSU bumbles away last year’s momentum

New QB Lee gets the call at halftime

RB Dixon’s effort one bright spot in loss

I remember thinking at halftime: Why is this game so close? Honestly, the biggest play of the game might have been that punt that Tech downed at the 1-yard line. I thought Tyson Lee did well just to give his kicker some room; there was no way he would’ve made a first down on that play, and if he hadn’t slid, he’d have gotten his block knocked off. Then a breakdown by the punt coverage gave Tech the short field and all the momentum heading into halftime.

I thought State’s defense played quite well. Tech had trouble sustaining drives, and their pass-first approach didn’t work too well – Taylor Bennett was 14-for-40 (35 percent) for 175 yards and an interception (tailback Patrick Jackson also threw a pick on a dumb play call).

I’d like to know where y’all thought the game started to get away from MSU. When did the sense of dread kick in for you?

Autopsy report coming Monday.

MSU at La. Tech: Game Thread

August 30, 2008

We’re about five minutes from kickoff. As has been the usual exercise, I believe, I’ll post any thoughts/updates in the comments section. Anybody have good/bad vibes? Me, I got no vibes, just a cup of tasty lemonade.

La. Tech: Pregame notes

August 30, 2008

I’ll update this once or twice before kickoff.

• OL Derek Sherrod, as suspected, did not travel with the team. Taking his seat on the plane was junior OL Phillip Freeman.

• There will be a familiar face on the Tech sideline: offensive line coach Art Kehoe. He held the same role at Ole Miss from 2006-07. Wow, from Miami and all those national championships to Louisiana Tech. I’m just sayin’.

• Tech’s Web site says the game can be heard online at www.z1075fm.com.

• A quote from earlier in the week by Tech QB Taylor Bennett, on State’s defense: “We’re prepared for everything. I guess if they do that, if they lock up (on our receivers), we’ll take advantage of that. If they want to blitz and stuff, we’re prepared for that, too. Going against a defense like ours in camp, you see a variation of everything, so it gets us ready for almost anything you’re going to see in a season.”

DJ Football Blitz

August 30, 2008

Need to let you guys know about a cool football site we’ve got, called DJ Football Blitz (a WordPress site). It’s basically football central for area preps, jucos and the colleges. It has links to Daily Journal stories and blogs, as well as an ESPN scoreboard. Check it out today to keep up with scores, and any suggestions are welcome.

We’re at the hotel, taking it easy. We’ll head for the stadium about 2:30. Check back before the game.

En Route

August 30, 2008

Gregg and I are headed to Ruston. I bopped him one time for you, doc. We’re trying to listen to the LSU game, but GG’s XM keeps going out. LSU just scored.

Lot of traffic on 55North. Glad the hurricane won’t affect our game today.

Thanks for the advice, guys. 🙂 To reciprocate, if y’all need a good place to eat, try Sundown Tavern downtown. More later.

Getting Closer …

August 29, 2008

Feels weird to not be out at a high school game tonight. College football Saturdays ain’t a bad tradeoff, though.

Depth chart update: Backing up Mark Melichar, who’s replacing injured Derek Sherrod at LT, will be Chris Spencer. Backing up Quentin Saulsberry, who’s replacing Melichar at RT, is Addison Lawrence.

If you haven’t left for Ruston yet, or if you’re going to stay home and watch the game on ESPN2, be sure to pick up a GameDay section in the morning. All sorts of goodies to get you ready for the big opener.

I’m at the office now, helping the guys get out the section. I’ll check back tomorrow.

It’s Friday!

August 29, 2008

As I write this, we’re less than 33 hours away from kickoff. I am very much excited. Caught some of the South Carolina-N.C. State game last night. Saw that tool rip off some pushups and earn his Gamecocks a 15-yarder.

Anyway, here is today’s story on the Bulldogs, a reflection on that famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) 4th-and-1 call in the Egg Bowl. I also wrote about how MSU needs a little better start than last year, and it’ll certainly help that the opponent is LTU, not LSU.

I’ve spent my morning so far typing in depth charts. Still trying to get the word on who will back up Mark Melichar (LT) and Quentin Saulsberry (RT). Derek Sherrod (LT), as noted earlier, is still fighting that foot infection.

This isn’t surprising, I’m told, but ESPN.com’s Kirk Herbstreit, in presenting his annual Herbie Awards, named Starkville’s Lil’ Dooey his top restaurant. Guess I’ll try it some time.

Tech Tidbits

August 28, 2008

First off, OL Derek Sherrod did not practice again today. Not sure he’ll even play Saturday. Maybe they won’t need him.

Anyway, I mentioned the other day that Louisiana Tech historically gives SEC teams a tough time. The Bulldogs are 3-24-1 against SEC foes since joining Division I in 1989. In their first matchup against an SEC school, they tied South Carolina (that was actually a pretty heated rivalry for a few years). Tech’s first SEC win: 38-23 over MSU in 1996, the last time the teams met. It also beat Alabama in 1997 and ’99.

In weather news, Hurricane Gustav will not affect Saturday’s game. If it hits Louisiana, it will be early next week, and Ruston is in the north part of the state anyway. Saturday’s forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of isolated thunderstorms.

I spoke today with Malcolm Butler, Tech’s assistant athletics director, and asked about tickets. He said plenty still remain but thinks a sellout of 30,600-seat Joe Aillet Stadium is still possible.

“We’ve always historically gotten a good walk-up crowd. Our folks are so used to being able to walk up 30 minutes before the game and get a ticket. We’re excited about the potential for the crowd,” Butler said.

Bulldogs: VIP Guests

August 28, 2008

I didn’t realize this until I heard Louisiana Tech QB Taylor Bennett mention it during Monday’s press conference: Mississippi State will be the first SEC school to pay a visit to Tech’s Joe Aillet Stadium. Not only that, the Bulldogs are the first BCS school to come a-calling.

Tech is not the kind of school that can easily draw big teams to its place. For starters, the 40-year-old stadium only seats 30,600. Tech will visit State next year as part of a home-and-home deal.

So you have a bowl team coming in, and the game is on ESPN2. Having once lived in Ruston myself, I know this is a huge deal for those folks.

The players will be pumped up, especially this being the first game, so MSU will have to deal with a team that’s got a little extra adrenaline. It’ll probably make for a close first half, especially if State doesn’t move the ball on its first possession. You see this all the time – an underdog comes in with more energy and puts a scare into the clear favorite. State needs to come out and attack, so as to quickly deflate Tech’s upset hopes.

Any predictions on the halftime score? I’ll say 14-7 State (remember, I have my final at 28-14).

Quarterback Shuffle

August 28, 2008

Here’s today’s story on Louisiana Tech QB Taylor Bennett. Speaking of quarterbacks, we could see four of them on the field Saturday. Tech coach Derek Dooley said he has “two No. 1s,” and Sylvester Croom plans to work Tyson Lee into the mix. Neither coach has a specific plan, like alternating series.

We heard from Croom earlier in the week on this. Dooley said having “two No. 1s” has become a necessity for most programs. Bennett’s backup is Ross Jenkins.

“The ideal thing is to have one guy who is phenomenal, and he’s the face of your program. That’s what Florida has, and that’s what Georgia has,” Dooley said. “The reality is, there’s not a lot of those guys out there. The reality is, it’s hard to go through 12 games without getting dinged up and hurt. So having those two variables, you better have two guys ready to play. That’s kind of the nature of the beast now.”

I would think that Wesley Carroll will be given a long leash. He was thrown into things last year and did a good job. Now that he’s been able to focus on mechanics and such, he should make a step forward. I don’t think a team like Tech will give Croom reason to yank Carroll for any other reason than wanting to give Lee some reps.

“He was going to be our third-string quarterback. We were going to bring him along slowly this year,” Croom said of Carroll. “We expect him to continue to be efficient, manage the game well. We expect him to make more big plays this year when opportunities present themselves.”

SEC Teleconference, etc.

August 27, 2008

Coach Croom just spoke on the SEC teleconference this morning. I asked him about offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey‘s role this weekend at Louisiana Tech. McCorvey underwent an unspecified surgery last week and returned to the practice field Monday. He has not been in any meetings, per Croom’s orders, but has been able to study film at home.

“If he’s in our meetings tomorrow, I think that’ll help us get an idea exactly how we want to approach the game,” Croom said. “If he’s ready to go, he’ll call the game, otherwise I will.”

Derek Sherrod update: Croom said how soon his left LT returns could depend on his pain tolerance. Sherrod is expected to return to practice Thursday, but if he doesn’t he won’t start. However: “If we wake up Saturday morning and he tells me he can play, we would definitely play him, but he would not start.”

• A writer from Arkansas was asking coaches what they thought about the idea of bringing in other teams for a preseason scrimmage, a la the NFL. “I think we have a good (practice) schedule). … We’re playing 12 games now anyway, I certainly don’t think we need to come in and bang heads with someone else,” said Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino. Croom was more receptive to the idea: “From a coaching standpoint, it would be a nice thing. The difference is, the media, the fans want to keep score, so it becomes another ballgame. If we could scrimmage somebody on our own, set it up like we want to, keep it closed, yeah, it’d be great.”

And here are a couple of nuggets from Louisiana Tech coach Derek Dooley‘s Monday press conference. I’m supposed to talk to him in a little while.

• On his young, thin WR corps: “Are they ready? They don’t look it, but we don’t have time. This is a little bit of a lab experiment.”

• On playing BCS schools: “These are the kind of games that we need to play, and these are the kind of games our program needs to play and embrace and enjoy. Because it does see where you are as a program.”

• His quickie scouting report of State’s offense: “They’re going to come out, they’re going to get in the I-formation, and they’re going to see if you’re man enough to stop them. Then they’re going to take their shots down the field.”

Predictions

August 27, 2008

See what happens when I go to sleep? Y’all start fighting. Tsk, tsk. But seriously, let’s try to keep the focus on MSU.

Speaking of which, now seems as good a time as any to make our predictions on Saturday’s game. I assume we all agree that State will win – the Bulldogs are an 8-point favorite. It could be that close, because Tech has a history of playing SEC teams tough.

Plus, that team has some good players on offense and most of its line returns. Strength against strength, I suppose. I’ll say: State 28, Tech 14.

By the way, here are today’s stories from the Daily Journal:

Croom hopes 2007’s lessons carry over

Benched Pegues lends a hand

A Formal Introduction

August 26, 2008

Good gosh, is it only Tuesday?

It has been a crazy, exciting two days. Day 1 in Starkville went well. Met some nice folks – hope I remember their names – and got the lay of the land. Since taking over for Gregg on Monday, my feelings have swung between excitement and nervousness. The dominant emotion now is excitement, and I expect it will remain that way.

I was walking across campus today, taking in its sprawling beauty – there’s just something about a college campus – and felt like I was in the right place.

Anyway, yes, farley, I was born in Oxford and lived a while in Ruston. Ironic, no? I’ve been with the Journal since 2002 and would like to stay here a while. I love the area, I love my state.

What I have learned by observing Gregg’s coverage of this beat – and it’s been driven home thanks to the blog – is that this isn’t “my” beat. I can’t do this job alone, and I’m not doing it just for me. I have a university and a broad, passionate fan base to answer to. My goal is to provide fair, thorough coverage, without being a homer. There is a fine line between being a cheerleader and an advocate. I wish nothing but the best for MSU and its people, but I won’t be one to sugarcoat whatever misfortunes may befall them. I think that is the approach Gregg took, and he set a fine journalistic example.

I have covered high schools for several years, but never a college team exclusively. I have no doubts I can make the transition; my main concern is getting settled in during the most hectic time of the year. But it’s also a fun time of year, so I’m sure my stress will be counterbalanced by the joy my job brings me.

Another thing Gregg did well that I want to emulate is the way he weaved himself into the MSU community, and that begins by building relationships. I look forward to getting to know Sylvester Croom and the rest of the coaching staff, Mike Nemeth and his athletic staff, the players, and you. I’ve come to appreciate the passion and knowledge y’all bring to this beat. (Huh? There’s what on my nose? Hold on …)

One more thing I bring to the table, and I might actually surpass Gregg in this department: my giant noggin. A 7 1/2 cap size, baby. And that’s with a shaved head.

If you’ve got any questions, I know you won’t hesitate to ask. Talk to you tomorrow.

Tuesday Press Conference

August 26, 2008

Hello, Bulldog fans. Let me first say how excited I am to be covering this beat. This is Day 1, with many more to come. I will give a formal introduction later.

For now, some tidbits from today’s press conference.

• Even though he started at Georgia Tech last year, there is some mystery surrounding Louisiana Tech QB Taylor Bennett. The senior transferred in this year and was allowed to play immediately after receiving an academic waiver from the NCAA (he’s going for a master’s). He had a solid 2007, but with him being with a new team and in a new offense, MSU coach Sylvester Croom isn’t sure what to expect Saturday.

“Based on what we think they’re going to do, I think it’ll be a different role, particularly with them having the kind of running back (Patrick Jackson) they have,” Croom said. “It’s pretty hard to evaluate.”

More on Bennett later this week.

• DT Charles Burns and WR Jamayel Smith will both sit out practice today with tendinitis. They should return to the field tomorrow.

• LT Derek Sherrod‘s status is still unclear. Croom is holding out hope for a Thursday return to the practice field. “If he’s practicing Thursday, he’ll start.” If not, the plan is still to move starting RT Mark Melichar into Sherrod’s slot and give Quentin Saulsberry the nod at LT.

• Croom on freshman WR O’Neal Wilder, who’s out 4-6 weeks with a dislocated knee: “He definitely had some great potential. Outstanding feet, great hands, but had a lot to learn. So now it’s going to be starting all over with him.”

• A couple of positions are much less cause for concern than they were at the start of camp: Fullback and tight end. On the latter, Croom said, “I think we are equal to last year at this point, and in some areas maybe ahead at that position.” Good news for an already dangerous running game.

• Croom on Tech’s Jackson: “A very solid SEC-looking running back. Good change of direction, good burst into the hole, good vision. He has the potential to make big plays any time he touches the football.”

Time for me to say good-bye

August 25, 2008

At some point in all our lives, we reach that proverbial fork in the road. Do we go left, or do we turn right. Of course, Yogi says to just take it.

Sorry, Yogi, it’s not that easy. At least for me.

For those of you who have encountered that fork, you know the difficulty and emotions that come with facing such decisions. For those of you who haven’t, well, just wait. Inevitably, the day will come.

Well, sports fans, my day has come.

This morning, I made one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I handed over my resignation to the Daily Journal.

After 10 years here at the word factory and with a company that’s been like family to me, it’s hard to imagine no longer seeing my name on top of stories and no longer coming to work with some of the most talented writers in the business.

And trust me when I say that every day since Feb. 15, 1999, it’s been an honor and privilege keeping you informed on the comings and goings of everything I’ve covered, whether it’s been the Tupelo T-Rex, Tupelo High School, all the other high schools I’ve been fortunate to visit, Ole Miss or Mississippi State. It’s a privilege I’ve never taken for granted.

Sure. Some of you are jumping up and down with joy that I’m leaving. But hey, at least you read, and at the end of the day, that’s all I could ask for.

But if there’s a facet of my job I’m going to miss the most, it’s the blog. Who would have thought that a couple of years ago when I was first introduced to the blog and told to embrace it.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed checking this site at least 20 times a day and seeing what you all have to say and think. Of course, there have been times that I have been scared to look. Last fall. Cops. Ring a bell?

Needless to say, there are no words that can express my gratitude to you all with how everyone came together when Farley’s son, Aedan, was born with his heart defect. Remarkable. Even to this day, I’m still amazed by the support you all showed. It was human kindness at its greatest.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “Well, if you’re resigning, where are you going?”

Hey, good question.

Actually, not far.

This morning, I was offered a job at Mississippi State to oversee the men’s basketball media relations department. I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get back into the field for quite some time, and God opened the perfect door for me.

It’s the best of both worlds. I stay in sports and I get to work at Mississippi State. Guys, life is good, and I know I’m blessed. I keep expecting the world to come crashing down, because I know I don’t deserve my good fortunes.

At the same time, I know it’s going to be a crazy year. My wife is a teacher at Church Street Elementary and is under contract through next semester. Because of that, we won’t move to Starkville until the summer. I never thought I would leave Tupelo, but this is just an opportunity I can’t let pass.

As for this blog and Mississippi State coverage, it will now fall into the trusty hands of Brad Locke. As of now, I’m no longer covering MSU. However, I will help Brad with the transition this week, and officially conclude my duties as a beat writer Saturday in Ruston helping Brad get acclimated to a college beat on deadline. Hopefully, you guys will welcome him with open arms.

Again, I can’t tell you enough what a privilege it’s been to be your beat writer and blogger. It’s surreal to sit here and write a farewell to you all, despite the fact you guys love to make fun of my “big head.”

But I won’t be far away, and when you see me on campus and at basketball games, please make a point to say hello.

What a ride and journey it’s been.

God Bless,
GG

Football Journal 2008 …

August 25, 2008

Click here for a PDF of the Football Journal football preview, including look at Mississippi State for this season.

Croom says . . .

August 25, 2008

Today was the official start to the game week mode as Sylvester Croom had his first teleconference with us media hacks.

Here are the highlights:
• WR O’Neal Wilder is out 4-6 weeks with a knee injury.
• OL Derek Sherrod is suffering from a foot infection and will be out until at least Thursday. If he’s not able to play at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, Mark Melichar will start at left tackle and Quentin Saulsberry will get the nod at right tackle.
• Offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey is expected to be back at the office today.
• As for the true freshmen that will travel, he listed DE Sean Ferguson, WR Arceto Clark, WR Delmon Robinson, DB Charles Mitchell, DB Louis Watson, DB Corey Broomfield, and DE Nick Bell.
• I asked Sly him the biggest surprise in camp, and he said it was the play of Sean Ferguson, who will start on Saturday. When asked why, Croom said, “For what that kid has done. He hasn’t missed a practice. I’d just hoped he’d be in a backup role. His maturity and ability has really surprised us.”

Eight . . . Yep . . . I said it

August 25, 2008

Eight wins last year and a bowl bid. Not shabby.

But that was last year. Now the question begs: Can Mississippi State do it again?

In today’s Daily Journal, I break down the schedule and come to the conclusion the Bulldogs can win eight games.

Call me crazy and disagree if you wish.

Blue 42, Blue 42 . . . Set, Hut

August 24, 2008

And with that, our day-by-day positon stories conclude with the quarterbacks.

What a week it’s been. Hopefully, you guys have learned something.

Also, I hope you caught our football tab in today’s Daily Journal. For those of you who don’t read the print version, it will be put online tomorrow.