Thursday, September 11, 2008

Special Guest Enemy: a Q n' A with Kyle Veazey of the Clarion-Ledger

If you're looking for information on Mississippi State, you've come to the right place. Well, one of a couple of "right places": one of them is Jackson Clarion-Ledger reporter Kyle Veazey's MSU blog, which has a wealth of information on the Bulldogs' preparations as they get ready for Auburn's visit Saturday. Kyle was awesome enough to answer a few questions I sent his way earlier this week; as always, my Q's are in bold with Kyle's A's in quotes. Enjoy.

1. I'm sure the Louisiana Tech loss was a pretty tough one to take around Starkville after the raised expectations for the Bulldogs this season. How much did the win over Southeastern Louisiana put the wind back in State's sails, or do you feel like it's going to take one of Croom's patented big SEC upsets to get things really rolling again?

"I'm not sure a win over SeLa can do much to erase what a loss to Louisiana Tech meant to this team and this program at this time. It's a start, sure. But yes, in order for this season to get back on track, most people you talk to around here are talking about now having to go 'win one you weren't supposed to.' Auburn would fit the bill."

2. A big problem for State--maybe the biggest one--against Louisiana Tech was their play at the quarterback position. How did Wesley Carroll look against SE Louisiana and do you think he's ready to take on a defense the caliber of Auburn's? What are the expectations for him heading into Saturday and is there any chance we see more of Tyson Lee?

"Wesley looked better. He didn't make as many mistakes, and didn't appear to be pressing as much. Auburn's defense will be better than anything he's seen this year, sure, but don't forget that Carroll acquitted himself fairly well against good competition last season. (True dat.--ed.) And barring a collapse from Carroll, I doubt we see Lee."

3. The loss of leading offensive lineman Mike Brown in the offseason was a big one. How badly has the line missed him in these first two games and do you think they'll be able to open some of the same holes for Tony Dixon they were able to open in last year's match-up with Auburn?

"First off, FYI, you may want to change that to Anthony. (Bugger! Phil Steele's preseason mag lists him as "Mike." Last time I listen to that guy.--ed.) But all accounts are that the line has held up fairly well, which is an accomplishment given the inexperience at the tackles in the first two games. That said, it hasn't faced a defensive front like Auburn's yet."

4. A lot of last year's State victories--including the one against Auburn--were powered by big defensive plays and/or gamebreaking punt returns by Derek Pegues. To this point, State hasn't had as many of those kinds of game-turning plays. Is there a sense that the Bulldogs are going to need those points from their defense and special teams Saturday to win? Do you feel like the Bulldogs might be due for them?

"So long as the offense doesn't light up the scoreboard, State is going to need big plays and/or points from defense and/or special teams. That could be Saturday against Auburn, but it holds true in every game it plays. State's offense simply doesn't give the rest of its team much of a margin for error right now."

5. The State defense has held up pretty well so far, allowing fewer than 300 total yards in both games, but they've also lost starting senior linebacker Jamar Chaney for the season. Taking the loss of Chaney into account, where is the strength of this defense? Likewise, where might Auburn be able to find some success?

"The strength now is clearly in the secondary, with Pegues, Keith Fitzhugh, and some highly underrated corners. Linebacker could've been considered a strength before Chaney went down, and Dominic Douglas is still a stalwart there. The perceived weakness is on the front, where a true freshman starts at one of the ends and some preseason injuries created a depth problem there. That said, it has played fairly well in the first two games."

6. Aside from stars like Pegues and Dixon, most SEC fans probably aren't familiar with many of State's other players. Tell us a few players in maroon we ought to keep an eye on Saturday and why.

"1) WR Brandon McRae -- this guy looks the part of a big-time receiver, he just didn't show anyone that last year. In two games in 2008, he has 12 catches, 132 yards and two touchdowns. 2) LT Derek Sherrod will be a very good player at left tackle one day, but State hopes that day starts Saturday. He missed the first game and much of the second one with a foot infection and should start Saturday. 3) DE Tim Bailey served in Iraq with the Mississippi National Guard. (Tim Bailey rocks.--ed.) Auburn's offensive line — or anything on the football field, for that matter — shouldn't get in his head too much."

7. In the kind of hard-fought battle of field position last year's game turned into, special teams play a huge role. How have State's specialists performed thus far and do the kick returns look as dangerous as they did a season ago?

"Umm ... about that. Special teams have been the weak link so far in 2008, and directly contributed to State's loss at Tech. Punter Blake McAdams had a better day against Southeastern Louisiana, though, and is certainly experienced enough. Though Pegues didn't show much in his debut Saturday, he's still very, very dangerous at returner."

8. How much pressure is there on Sylvester Croom to pull out a win in this game? On one hand, it doesn't seem like many fans would hold a loss to a top-15 team against him, but on the other, State's next two games are difficult road games to Georgia Tech and LSU--a loss here, and a 1-4 start is a real possibility. Are the State faithful going to be satisfied with progress from the La. Tech game and a competitive defeat, or does Croom really need a victory?

"The way Georgia Tech is looking right now, it doesn't appear to be the clear-cut easiest game to win out of this stretch of three. Especially since it's on the road. So when a team that you beat last year that's still working out the kinks of its offense comes to your place — yeah, I think you could say folks around here think it's a "gettable" game. I don't know how much weight moral victories carry around here anymore with the fans. It's no longer 2004 or 2005. Last year proved State could compete, and fans now have that expectation. The La Tech loss changed the entire complexion of this season, and if you come out of this upcoming three-game stretch at 1-4, there's going to be some ticked-off Bulldog fans — as if they weren't already after the season-opener."

Once again, huge thanks to Kyle for his expertise and assistance and I heartily recommend you check out his blog at the Clarion-Ledger.


Anonymous said...

Seems like ol Kyle is saying that the Auburn game is the easiest of the three?!?! O.k., is this guy serious? If so, MSU fans are more delusional than I thought. I know this is an SEC game, and should be prepared for as such. By let's be honest...unless AU "gives" the game away (see last year), then this game SHOULD be out of hand by halftime. I sure hope Blackmon doesn't read this blog, b/c he may just take this personally...uh oh!
Josh S.
B'ham, AL

Jerry Hinnen said...

Well ... he is probably saying that, but I can't imagine any State observers/fans would call it "easy." They're going to be pretty sizable underdogs in all three, and while I personally would give the Bulldogs more of a shot against a Georgia Tech team that didn't move the ball terribly well against BC, I can understand why they'd view the one home game in the bunch as their best shot--if they couldn't even handle their business on their trip to Ruston, why would it be any different in Atlanta?