SEC: Wesley Carroll

Mississippi State season review

December, 16, 2008
Posted by's Chris Low

The fall was a steep one, and Sylvester Croom landed hard.

A year removed from leading Mississippi State to a Liberty Bowl victory, getting a big raise and earning SEC Coach of the Year honors, Croom found himself out of a job.

On the heels of an embarrassing season-ending 45-0 loss to Ole Miss, Croom resigned after new Mississippi State athletic director Greg Byrne informed him that he was going in another direction.

It was a dismal season for the Bulldogs (4-8, 2-6 SEC) and one in which everything that could go wrong did. They lost left offensive tackle Michael Brown before the season started when he was dismissed because of a handgun incident on campus.

Star safety Derek Pegues was suspended for the first game for violating the class attendance policy, and the Bulldogs were upset by Louisiana Tech.

It was a sign of things to come, and in a trend that plagued Croom's five-year tenure in Starkville, Mississippi State struggled to find any offense. The Bulldogs finished 113th nationally in total offense and 115th in scoring offense. They were 100th or worse in total offense in all five of Croom's seasons as coach.

Wesley Carroll started the season at quarterback, but soon gave way to Tyson Lee. The Bulldogs finished with an SEC-low 23 touchdowns, and even the defense dropped off this season to 11th in the SEC. They lost All-SEC middle linebacker Jamar Chaney in the first game to a broken leg.

Offensive MVP: About the only thing Mississippi State could count on offensively this season was junior running back Anthony Dixon. The 240-pound battering ram led the Bulldogs in rushing with 869 yards and scored nine touchdowns. He also had 20 receptions.

Defensive MVP: Senior Dominic Douglas, moving over to middle linebacker in place of the injured Chaney, more than answered the call. Douglas led the SEC with 116 total tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss. He also had an interception and forced a fumble.

Turning point: The season-opening 22-14 loss to Louisiana Tech set the tone for the entire season. The Bulldogs turned the ball over five times, including three interceptions by Carroll, and blew a 14-3 lead. They never fully recovered, and things only went downhill from there.

What's next: Former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was introduced on Dec. 18 as Mississippi State's new head coach. Byrne wanted an offensive guy and liked Mullen's pedigree. Mullen wants to run the same spread offense he ran at Florida, but recruiting to that system will be paramount if he's going to be successful in one of the SEC's toughest jobs.

Lunchtime links: Reaves called out for dirty tactics

December, 10, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

We browse the headlines from around the SEC:

Lunchtime links: McClain one tough customer

November, 18, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

Let's make the rounds to see what's making headlines in the SEC:

Alabama's Rolando McClain shows his toughness against Mississippi State and plays on despite a painful thumb injury.

Georgia beat writer Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that the Bulldogs don't have the chemistry and/or heart that the great teams have.

This is one bye week South Carolina could do without after getting clobbered last week by Florida and with Clemson looming in the distance.

Mississippi State's Wesley Carroll is hoping for more snaps at quarterback.

The Gators are plenty talented, but they also have great chemistry this season after lacking in that department a year ago.

Mississippi State midseason report

October, 16, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

Mississippi State is another one of those teams in the SEC that's had a terrible time finding itself offensively. The Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2 SEC) started off so poorly in losing to Louisiana Tech in the opener and have never been able to fully recover. They've been hampered by injuries/suspensions to key players and have changed quarterbacks to try and get something going offensively. Junior Tyson Lee has taken over for Wesley Carroll and showed the ability to hurt teams with the run and pass in last week's 17-14 win over Vanderbilt, ending a three-game losing streak for the Bulldogs. They're still ranked 103rd nationally in total offense and tied for 113th in scoring offense.

Offensive MVP: Defenses have ganged up on Anthony Dixon this season, but the junior running back has still been the Bulldogs' most consistent offensive threat with 427 rushing yards. He's battled a groin injury and hasn't been 100 percent. His best game came last week against Vanderbilt when he carried the ball 27 times for 107 yards. The Bulldogs hope it's a sign of what's to come.

Defensive MVP: Senior safety Derek Pegues let his team down by being suspended in the first game for violating the class attendance policy, but he's come back ever since and played like an All-SEC performer on a defense that has kept this season from unraveling. He's also a standout on special teams in the return game.

What's next?: Getting back to eight wins is probably a stretch, but the Bulldogs face a huge game this Saturday at Tennessee if they're going to turn this season around. They won a year ago because they did all of the little things right and won the close games. Looking at their remaining schedule, which softens somewhat, they could be in several close ones down the stretch. We'll see how much this team has grown up. One thing you know: Sylvester Croom is never going to put a team on the field that doesn't play with great effort.

Red zone turnovers plague Vols, Bulldogs

October, 2, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

Mississippi State and Tennessee, in that order, have been the worst two offenses in the SEC this season.

The Bulldogs are averaging just 16.2 points and the Vols 19.2 points.

The common denominator for both teams is that they've struggled mightily at the quarterback position. The Bulldogs, who are off this weekend, have gone from Wesley Carroll to Tyson Lee. The Vols opened up their quarterback competition this week and plan to play both Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens on Saturday against Northern Illinois.

Something else Mississippi State and Tennessee have in common this season is the propensity to turn the ball over at the worst possible times.

They're the only two SEC teams who have three turnovers inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Tennessee has only been inside the other team's 20-yard line 13 times. The only SEC team worse in that category is Arkansas, which has just 11 trips inside the opposition's 20-yard line.

What now for Mississippi State?

September, 20, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

The Bulldogs have faced their share of adversity over the last few years under Sylvester Croom, but nothing like this.

After being shredded 38-7 by Georgia Tech on Saturday, Mississippi State heads into the teeth of its schedule 1-3 and looking squarely down the barrel of a losing season unless something changes in a hurry.

The demoralizing thing for the Bulldogs on Saturday was that they melted down defensively. Georgia Tech had 437 rushing yards and attempted just nine passes.

The Bulldogs passed for 300 yards, but Wesley Carroll had two more interceptions. Mississippi State finished with four turnovers and now have 12 turnovers in four games this season.

Internal affairs in the SEC

September, 17, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

We go inside with our weekly "Internal Affairs" check of the conference. Not that it's a revelation to Tennessee, but the Vols had better be ready to see a lot of No. 1 this Saturday in Knoxville:

1. Putting more Green in the offense: There's one major problem with Georgia freshman receiver A.J. Green this season. He hasn't touched the ball nearly enough. The Georgia coaches have admitted as much this week, and they're going to try and get the ball in his hands more against Arizona State. Green is second on the team with eight catches for 141 yards and is averaging 17.6 yards per catch, but he's clearly their most explosive receiving threat ... and he goes and gets the football. One thing the Bulldogs may also do is whittle down their receiver rotation. They're playing too many guys right now.

2. Unleashing Percy: Look for Florida to add a new running back this week. Percy Harvin's not going to carry it 20 times, but he'll touch the ball more against Tennessee than he has all season. And a bunch of those touches will come with him lined up in the backfield. The Gators will hand it to him, pitch it to him and toss it to him. He's healthier than he's been, bigger than he's been (205 pounds) and ready to get back to what he was last season -- one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football. The Gators will also have a few misdirection plays involving Harvin, plays the Vols have struggled to defend in recent years.

3. Burns-ing quarterback issues: This whole thing with Kodi Burns and the Auburn quarterback situation doesn't sound promising for the Tigers. Tommy Tuberville admitted that he met with Burns' parents following the Southern Miss game when Chris Todd was announced as Auburn's starter. Burns didn't play at all in the Mississippi State game, but remains in the Tigers' plans for the LSU game, Tuberville said. One of the holdups, according to Tuberville, is that he doesn't want Burns pegged as just a running quarterback and wants him to be ready to run the whole spread offense. Tuberville insists that he believes in Burns. But does first-year offensive coordinator Tony Franklin?

4. Williams moving to end: Tennessee has moved Gerald Williams from outside linebacker to defensive end for the Florida game, and the 6-4, 240-pound Williams is likely to stay there for the rest of the season after playing primarily on special teams the first two games. It's no secret that the Vols need to pressure Tim Tebow, get to him early and keep him boxed in as much as possible. Tennessee only has two sacks in its first two games and is looking for guys who can finish on the outside. The Vols hope Williams can be that guy, and he's also fast enough to pursue the ball and make plays on the perimeter.

5. Shaking it up in Starkville: Mississippi State offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey wishes he had a magic wand, but a few adjustments will have to do. The first thing the Bulldogs are going to do is give Tyson Lee a few more chances at quarterback. Coach Sylvester Croom had gone back and forth on that, but the plan now is to play Lee some against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs also plan to get running back Robert Elliott a lot more involved, especially with Anthony Dixon questionable with a groin injury. Elliott gives them a chance for bigger plays. Mississippi State didn't have a play longer than 13 yards in the 3-2 loss to Auburn.

Croom sticking with Carroll -- for now

September, 16, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom said Tuesday that Wesley Carroll will remain the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs on Saturday against Georgia Tech.

It's been a rough start for Carroll and the Bulldogs' offense. But he's not the root of all of their problems offensively. They've been in third-and-long too many times through the first three games and haven't had enough consistent playmakers to emerge.

Mississippi State is 103rd nationally in total offense and 105th in scoring offense. The Bulldogs are tied for 109th nationally on third-down conversions (27.3 percent). You just can't win when you're that poor on third down, especially in the SEC.

Croom said he may use Tyson Lee some at quarterback. Lee rotated with Carroll in the first game, a 22-14 loss to Louisiana Tech, and Croom said afterward that he was shelving the two-quarterback system.

He could be at a crossroads right now, though, because you sure don't want to lose Carroll confidence-wise for the season. And the game this Saturday at Georgia Tech is a must-win if the Bulldogs are going to have a second straight winning season.

If they lose that one and go to 1-3, this season has 6-6 (at best) written all over it. The Bulldogs' next three games are against LSU on the road, Vanderbilt at home and Tennessee on the road.

It goes without saying: The trip to Atlanta this weekend is huge. 

SEC mailbag: One-loss SEC champ in good shape

September, 16, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

Time to empty out the mailbag. Seems like there's some concern out there about some of the offenses in this league, and I'd say that concern is well-founded. It will really be interesting to see how Auburn's offense bounces back:

Parkker from Nashville writes: Will a one-loss SEC champion play in the national championship over an undefeated team like Oklahoma or Missouri?

Chris Low: I'm on record as saying that the SEC champion, as long as it has no more than one loss, is a lock to play for the BCS national championship for the third straight year. Southern California can punch its ticket for one of those spots and is clearly the best team in the country. That is, as long as the Trojans don't have a Stanford this season. I admit it gets interesting if Oklahoma is sitting there at 13-0 as the Big 12 champion and somebody like Georgia is 12-1 at the end of the year as the SEC champion. Still, I've got to think if any SEC team, particularly Georgia with its killer schedule, makes it through that gauntlet with one or fewer losses, the final BCS standings are going to work out in favor of the SEC. Call me an SEC apologist, or call me an SEC realist.

Derry of Albany, Ga., writes: What kind of chance do you give the Vols to beat the Gators? Are the Vols as bad as they looked at UCLA or were they outcoached?

Chris Low: Tennessee will be ready for this one and play its best game of the season. I just don't have enough faith in the Vols' offense to be able to get it done in the fourth quarter, especially when you've got what appears to be a healthy Percy Harvin running around now for Florida. The Gators are going to score some points. There's no defending the UCLA loss for Tennessee. The Vols are a much better team than they showed on the West Coast, but obviously went into that game not mentally prepared to play. They didn't make the adjustments they needed to make on either side of the ball in the second half and allowed the Bruins to hang around. That loss will look worse and worse as the season goes on and losses pile up for the Bruins, and if you're looking for blame, look no further than Phillip Fulmer and his staff. Not the Tennessee coaching staff's finest hour. Let's see if they can make amends this weekend.

Jeff writes: Why did Coach Croom not bring in Tyson Lee during the Auburn game? (Wesley) Carroll was obviously struggling, and the offense couldn't do anything and it looked like if State could get a field goal, they might be able to win a very ugly game. P.S. Is there any hope for the rest of the year?

Chris Low: Croom has said that Carroll is his guy and he's sticking with him. I think Croom also knows that if he starts juggling quarterbacks this early in the season with the struggles they're having on offense, the results could be disastrous. Now, I don't think Carroll has a pass for the rest of this season. If the offense doesn't start moving the ball this week against Georgia Tech, Croom's pretty close to letting Lee have his chance. My big question with that game was why Mississippi State went for it on fourth-and-long in the fourth quarter when a punt could have pinned Auburn back in what was clearly a field position game. You say a field goal could have won it. Heck, another safety could have won it. I wouldn't give up on this team yet, although I think the Georgia Tech game is critical. Croom is as tough as they come, and his teams play that way. Remember, he played and coached under the Bear. He won't tolerate anybody quitting.

Ian in Orlando writes: Have you noticed this? Arkansas' next four games are vs. No. 9 Alabama, at No. 7 Texas, vs. No. 4 Florida and at No. 10 Auburn. Does anyone in college football play a tougher four-game stretch than this? Has anyone EVER played a tougher four-game stretch?

Chris Low: Ian, yes I have noticed. And, no, I can't remember a more ominous four-week stretch for an SEC team in my time of covering the conference. The killer is that there's no break and you insert a nonconference game like Texas into the middle of that stretch after it was postponed because of Hurricane Ike. The scary part is that the Hogs, already playing as many true freshmen as anybody in the league, don't get a break after that stretch. With the Texas game being moved, they now have to play eight straight weeks before getting another bye.

Steve in Alexandria, La., writes: What's the status on (Brad) Lester? Is he a go or not?

Chris Low: Lester, who sprained his neck against Mississippi State after a wicked looking spill, is supposed to see a neurosurgeon this week. The MRI was negative on Sunday. The coaches are keeping their fingers crossed that he'll be able to play this weekend provided he's cleared and looks good in practice.

Carroll's development key for Bulldogs

August, 15, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

 Joe Murphy/Getty Images
 Quarterback Wesley Carroll threw 137 consecutive passes last season without an interception.

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- I won't throw out any predictions before I hit the road from Mississippi State.

But this I will say: These guys believe.

And not that they can get back to eight wins and play in another bowl game, but that they can win the Western Division championship and play for an SEC title.

Senior free safety Derek Pegues goes back to the conversation he had with Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom the day Pegues, a highly recruited player, committed to the Bulldogs four years ago. Croom promised him during that phone call that he would win an SEC title while he was at Mississippi State.

Well, this is Pegues' last shot.

"I feel we have all the tools to get there," said Pegues, an All-SEC safety. "It's on us to go out and play hard and take it. We're going to build off of what we did last year, not live off it."

If the Bulldogs are indeed going to be a factor in the West race, Wesley Carroll will have to take that next step as a quarterback after being thrown into the fire last season as a true freshman. Nobody's ever going to accuse Carroll of having a Dan Marino-like arm, but his arm was even weaker than normal last season because he was recovering from shoulder surgery and couldn't throw the deep ball.

Mississippi State offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey, though, loved the way Carroll managed the offense and didn't make mistakes. He threw 137 consecutive passes without an interception before his first career pick last season.

This season, the Bulldogs will give Carroll a little bit more of the offense and they will expect a little bit more in return.

"We've really been able to spread the ball around, which is what we want to do," said Carroll, adding that receivers Aubrey Bell, Jamayel Smith, Brandon McRae and Co-Eric Riley had all taken their games to another level.

"If we can utilize those guys, it's just going to open up the running game more and open up the tight ends and running backs in the flats. I don't think people are going to be able to load up on us this year."

Croom said there's a fine line in adding more to Carroll's repertoire and giving him too much freedom.

"One of the things we have to be careful about as he grows more confident is still not being a gambler," Croom said. "We want him to get better with his throwing but also understand, as Clint Eastwood would say, that a man's got to know his limitations.

"Every time he improves, I have to go back and remind him, 'Wes, remember who you are and remember what it is that makes you successful.' "

Carroll looks to expand role in 2008

July, 23, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

 Joe Murphy/Getty Images
 Wesley Carroll has high expectations for his team in 2008.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- For the first part of last season, Wesley Carroll admits he was doing his best just to tread water.

A true freshman, he was forced into action as Mississippi State's starting quarterback when the Bulldogs were searching for any semblance of consistency at the position.

As it was, Carroll ended up starting nine games, and the Bulldogs were 6-3 in those games on their way to an 8-5 finish and a Liberty Bowl win over Central Florida.

A year later, he has a better grasp on everything -- the offense, his teammates, what the coaches are looking for and just exactly what his role will be.

"I expect a lot more from myself and from my teammates just because we've all had a year going into the season," Carroll said. "I didn't have a lot of offseason preparation last year, being able to work timing with receivers and mesh with backs and stuff like that. All that will help our chemistry.

"I wasn't with any of the seniors last year. We, as a team, expect so much more than we did last year."

In particular, Carroll thinks the Bulldogs will be far more flexible on offense and not beat their head into a wall trying to run against defenses that stack the line of scrimmage with eight and nine defenders.

"I think everybody found their niche in the spring and what role they'll be playing on offense as opposed to just going out there and trying to run when there's eight guys in the box," Carroll said. "We won't be able to do that. We established a lot of new formations with plays that we can execute against any defense.

"We have a lot of audibles depending on what the defense does, and we'll always be right. We didn't have that flexibility last year."

A lightly recruited quarterback out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the 6-foot-1 Carroll (and that's stretching it) didn't receive any serious interest in the state of Florida from major schools. He'd never even been to the state of Mississippi until he took his first unofficial visit to Mississippi State in the spring of his junior year in high school.

"There's a lot of guys like me," Carroll said. "We talk about that as a team all the time. There's no five-star guys, best-in-the-country type athletes. But we win, and that's all that matters."

Mississippi State shuffling things on offensive line

July, 23, 2008

Posted by's Chris Low

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Here are a few Mississippi State nuggets. I'll have more later on sophomore quarterback Wesley Carroll, who said the Bulldogs' offense won't be nearly as limited this season:

  • Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom probably won't stray too far from his offensive line when preseason practice begins in August. The Bulldogs' best lineman, left tackle Mike Brown, was dismissed this offseason after being arrested and charged with firing a gun on campus.

The ensuing shuffling means that three sophomores will start in the offensive line for Mississippi State this season.

Derek Sherrod will step in for Brown at left tackle. Mark Melichar, the backup to Brown at left tackle last season, will take over at right tackle. But the key to the Bulldogs' offensive line, according to Croom, will be how well J.C. Brignone adjusts to being the starting center following the graduation of Royce Blackledge.

"J.C. is more talented than Royce, but Royce was the leader of our offense last year," Croom said. "The intangible qualities that J.C. brings and how he handles all the things that a center has to do in the Southeastern Conference is really going to be a key factor in the development of our offensive line."

  • As sorry as he was to see what happened to Brown, Croom hopes his whole team learned from that situation.

"Mike is an excellent person. I think he was on the Dean's list the previous semester, an excellent student," Croom said. "In the spur of a moment, he made a bad decision. That's what we've got to get our players to understand. I'm not making excuses. Let's make sure you understand that.

"There were things that myself and my teammates did in college that if these guys did them today, it would be horrifying. But what happens now because of the Internet, all of these different kind of tubes we have on the Internet, all of that stuff, I don't understand it all ... the public has so much access to what goes on so much quicker that a guy in a split second can change his entire course of his life just by a decision that he makes."

  • Even though he's just a sophomore, quarterback Wesley Carroll clearly has Croom's trust. 
Somebody asked Croom why he chose to bring Carroll to the SEC Media Days when most coaches elected to bring seniors.

"Because he knows how to win, and he's the leader of our offense," Croom responded. "You know, I didn't read in the handbook where you had to have a senior."