Croom's grace period runs out of time at Miss. State

Lopsided loss to LSU tests patience of faithful as well as rookie coach

September 27, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Is the last train to Starkville going to collect Sylvester Croom at the station?

Talk about short honeymoons. The one between Mississippi State and Sylvester Croom, the first African-American head football coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference, is officially over. Some fans are already suggesting a trial separation.,

After the Bulldogs beat Tulane, 28-7, in Croom's much-anticipated debut, the season has gone from predictable (losing to Auburn, 43-14) to embarrassing (a 9-7 defeat to Division I-AA Maine) to just plain depressing (a 51-0 loss at LSU).

Croom had to be aware the Bulldogs would be rebuilding, but even he seemed a bit discouraged after his team's most recent defeat.

"I never dreamed that we'd get drummed like this," Croom said Saturday in Baton Rouge.

Mississippi State made the defending national co-champions look like the team it was supposed to be this year, not the one that barely beat Oregon State and then lost to Auburn because the offense had trouble sustaining drives.

The Bulldogs helped LSU's quarterback controversy go away, with Marcus Randall and JaMarcus Russell completing 16 of 19 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. To make matters worse, the Bulldogs also lost starting quarterback Omarr Conner indefinitely with a knee injury.

The score could have been more one-sided had the Tigers not fumbled four times - three in Bulldogs territory - and had Tigers coach Nick Saban not kept pulling his starters and then second-team players as the points mounted.

Asked if he had showed compassion for Croom, Saban said, "I thought that was obvious by the way we played in the second half."

That feeling won't filter back to Starkville as the pressure increases dramatically on the Bulldogs and their coach as they head to Vanderbilt Saturday.

"The building of a football program, with good people with character, doesn't happen overnight," said Kyle York, who'll likely start Saturday against the winless Commodores. "It happens over a long period of time."

How long it takes is anybody's guess, but the honeymoon for Croom is definitely over.

Pittsburgh escapes

If any coach from one of the six so-called power conferences schedules a Division I-AA team in the future, he should have a clause put immediately into his contract. If his team loses, it's considered reason for dismissal. (The athletic director should be fired, too, for signing off on the deal.)

Consider what has happened this season: Mississippi State lost to Maine and Rutgers lost to New Hampshire. Pittsburgh nearly became the latest casualty, escaping with a 41-38 overtime win at home against Furman Saturday.

Panthers coach Walt Harris tried to talk his way out of what could have been another crushing defeat for the Big East.

"I know when we beat someone who isn't very good, and I know when we beat someone who is competitive, and they were competitive," said Harris. "We are really proud to have this victory, because it looked like it was going to be very tough."

Though Pittsburgh deserves some credit for coming back from a 31-14 deficit early in the third quarter, the Panthers really don't get anything out of it, because wins over Division I-AA teams don't count when it comes to being bowl-eligible.

If you're going to schedule an automatic win, why not take on Duke, North Carolina or Vanderbilt?

Trojan wars

Southern California's 31-28 win over Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., was either one of those shaky victories that all national championship teams seem to have or a sign the Trojans are ready to fall. They'll have a couple of weeks to fix what's wrong - especially with the defense - before Cal comes to the Coliseum looking to prove that last year's overtime win in Berkeley wasn't a fluke.

USC certainly looks like it has its act together offensively, with quarterback Matt Leinart and tailback Reggie Bush each doing enough to ruin the other's Heisman Trophy candidacy. But the defense, which was supposed to carry the Trojans early in the season, has appeared vulnerable, first in the season opener against Virginia Tech and now against the Cardinal.

The Trojans trailed at halftime 28-17, with Stanford tailback J.R. Lemon running 82 yards for a touchdown as time expired.

"We were thinking about our halftime speeches," said defensive tackle Shaun Cody. "We were in a funky defense. I didn't know what was going on."

Looking ahead

This is the first of many big BCS weekends. Two games with national championship implications will be played in Georgia: Miami visiting Georgia Tech and LSU playing at Georgia. Another game that could affect this year's championship race will be West Virginia's trip to Virginia Tech. The scenario is the opposite of last year, when the highly ranked Hokies lost in Morgantown. Two BCS dark horses, Purdue and Utah, play at Notre Dame and New Mexico, respectively.

The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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