Mississippi State hopes to reverse trend against powerful No. 2 LSU

Published 2:55 pm Thursday, August 30, 2007

As the college football season opens, there is even optimism at Mississippi State — where the Bulldogs haven’t had a winning season since 2000.

Season ticket sales are up and coach Sylvester Croom believes in his fourth season at Mississippi State he’s finally got a team that can compete in the Southeastern Conference as the Bulldogs open the season Thursday against No. 2 LSU in Starkville.

“People are very passionate about Mississippi State football and I’m looking forward to this game and this season with a great deal of excitement,” Croom said.

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If recent history holds, the excitement will have worn off by halftime. The Bulldogs have lost seven straight to LSU by a total of 295-81, including shutouts of 51-0 and 42-0. Last year the Tigers led 21-0 after one quarter and 35-3 at halftime before winning 48-17.

Croom said his players don’t need reminding about what LSU can do.

“They understand if they’re not ready to play from the first whistle that could happen again because they’re a very explosive football team,” he said.

LSU coach Les Miles said his team shouldn’t take the Bulldogs lightly despite their recent troubles.

Mississippi State hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2000 and are finally off NCAA probation. But Miles saw improvement by the Bulldogs when he reviewed film from last season and calls them “conceptually very good.”

“I think all you have to do is look at their film when they’re playing well and you can see very quickly that they’re capable and talented, and that we’re going to have to play well,” Miles said.

While plenty of questions remain about Croom’s squad, which was last in the SEC and went 3-9 last season, there are few surrounding the Tigers. They return 15 starters from last year’s 11-2 team, though there is a question mark at quarterback.

Fifth-year senior Matt Flynn will make his second career start, replacing top NFL draft pick JaMarcus Russell. But if Flynn’s second start is anything like his first — he was offensive most valuable player when LSU beat Miami 40-3 in the 2005 Peach Bowl — the Tigers stand a chance of improving on last season’s No. 3 finish in the rankings.

“The thing he needs to do, just one thing, is play very comfortably within the scheme and not try to make too many plays, and just do the things that he did that last time he started,” Miles said.

Flynn won’t have the advantage of targets Dwayne Bowe and Buster Davis, who were also taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April. But Early Doucet returns and Flynn spent the offseason working with the team’s young receivers to build a rapport.

“We’ve got a lot of talent out there,” Flynn said. “The only thing they’re lacking is experience, but they’ve got all the talent in the world.”

Mississippi State has its own questions at quarterback. The Bulldogs’ struggles last season were compounded when Michael Henig broke his collarbone — twice.

Henig has bulked up and now has a titanium plate shielding his left collarbone. If he goes down again, the Bulldogs will have to rely on a freshman. But Henig said he’s confident he won’t be coming off the field.

And while he’s out there, he thinks special things will be happening.

“I think we as a team can see that we’re better than we were last year at any point,” the junior said. “We can see that our offense is way more explosive than we’ve ever been. It’s a whole lot different.”