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Croom, ’Dogs turn attention to Tide
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<a href='http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20041031/NEWS/410310359/1015/SPORTS' target='_blank'>http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pbcs.dl...359/1015/SPORTS</a>

Croom, ’Dogs turn attention to Tide

By Tommy Deas
Sports Writer
October 31, 2004

Email this story.

STARKVILLE, Miss. | Sylvester Croom knows a lot will be made of his return to his hometown next weekend, but Mississippi State’s head football coach is more concerned with finding ways for his Bulldogs to extend their two-game winning streak.

Mississippi State downed Kentucky 22-7 Saturday at Scott Field, giving the Bulldogs their first back-to-back wins in SEC play in four seasons. As soon as the game was over, the questions about Croom’s return to Tuscaloosa began.

“I go there all the time," he said. “I went last week to see my mother. It’s no big deal. I’m just looking forward to playing next week.

“This has been building since I took the job. It’s inevitable. I’ll deal with that. We’ll focus on the game."

Croom, a Tuscaloosa High School graduate and former University of Alabama All-American who played under the late Paul W. “Bear" Bryant, has coached eight games at Mississippi State (3-5) and already won as many games as MSU won in any of the last three seasons. He still wants more.

“I just want to get a win," he said. “I’ve had enough of that other stuff. I like chocolate cake, but I don’t want to eat it every day."

Mississippi State players have gained much-needed confidence after upsetting Florida and following it up with a victory over Kentucky.

“It’s a big step, a new tradition here at Mississippi State," junior linebacker Clarence McDougal said. “Coach Croom told us the Florida game was the start of a new season for us. Now we’re 2-0 and we’re just going from there.

“We’ve just got to get ready every day so we can win. Our confidence is high. We’ve got a big game next week. It’s going to be a great game, a big game."

MSU players say Croom hasn’t made an issue of his return to coach against his alma mater, at least not yet.

“Coach Croom takes each week one game at a time," junior defensive end Willie Evans said. “We know we play Alabama next week, but we haven’t thought about it yet.

“We’re going to definitely take it upon ourselves. We’ll be ready to play."

Last year’s 38-0 loss to Alabama is still a sore point for Mississippi State’s players. Alabama scored less than two minutes into the game and seemed to take all the fight out of the Bulldogs. MSU’s head coach at the time, Jackie Sherrill, said after the game that his players had quit.

The Bulldog say Alabama can expect a stiffer challenge this time.

“I want them to understand this isn’t the same Mississippi State team they played last year," Evans said. “We just want to show it. To the fans, the Mississippi State fans all around the world, we want them to know we’re not quitters."

McDougal remembers the loss as a particularly bitter day in a season where the Bulldogs won just two games.

“It was probably one of the lowest points," he said. “I thought we were the better team, but things just went wrong and it got out of hand."

MSU’s players know the Alabama game is important to their coach, and they want to win for him.

“I guarantee we’ll practice a lot harder," said Brian Anderson, a sophomore offensive lineman from Butler, Ala. “I’m sure this one, in the back of a lot of our players’ minds, we want to win this game for Coach Croom.

“It’s a big game anyway, but I think that just makes it bigger. I think he tries not to talk about it, but you kind of know it’s something in the back of his head."

Winning at Alabama would be an important step for the Bulldogs after defeating Florida and Kentucky on their home field.

“We’ve got to go on the road and beat anybody we play," Evans said. “We understand we can beat anybody at home. Now we need to show we can win on the road."

Croom wasn’t pleased with several aspects of the Kentucky game, pointing to MSU’s three turnovers, seven penalties and missed scoring opportunities. His week will be spent addressing those issues rather than pondering the significance of his return to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“We’re excited," he said, “but we’ve got a lot of getting better to do. We did everything you could do to lose a ballgame. Part of winning is finding a way to win regardless of how you play, and today we did that.

“We’ve got to get a lot better next week to have a chance to win against a fine Alabama team. I’m not going to every worry about [the hype] because we’ve got to get our team ready to play."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy.deas@tuscaloosanews.com or at (205) 722-0224.
10-31-2004 12:51 PM
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