STARKVILLE – Croom's the word at Mississippi State.
But for the No. 18 Auburn Tigers, it's all about the Va-room supplied by their twin terrors at tailback – Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams.
If Carnell's the Cadillac, then the 235-pound Brown must have looked like a souped-up Mack truck to Mississippi State's defense on Saturday afternoon at sun-splashed Scott Field, in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
The bruiser back rushed for 147 yards on 15 carries, one a tackle-busting 59-yarder in the second quarter to set up Auburn's third touchdown of the first half in its eventual 43-14 win.
Cadillac didn't score six touchdowns against the Bulldogs like he did last season in Jackie Sherrill's first farewell game. But the talented senior bobbed, weaved and powered his way past the maroon shirts for 122 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns on runs of 1 and 3 yards.
State defensive end Willie Evans, who led the Bulldogs with eight tackles, probably knew it was going to be one of those days on the Tigers' opening series.
Brown's first carry, on the game's first play, netted 13 yards.
Cadillac's first tote, two plays later, was a 14-yard scamper into State territory.
“You have to respect both of them,” Evans told reporters. “We'd seen them on film. We knew we had a big challenge ahead of us. They made some big plays today. Big players make big plays.”
Evans said Auburn's strategy with its backs was basic.
“They pretty much ran the zone play where the running back found the hole,” he said. “Great running backs are going to make great plays. They find the crease.”
Croom knew challenge
Auburn ended the afternoon with 283 rushing yards – 269 coming from the driving legs of Brown and Williams.
Sylvester Croom, State's first-year head coach and former offensive lineman, knew a lot of things had to go right for the Bulldogs' defense to contain the two tailbacks – two he called “NFL-quality backs” who will be playing on Sundays next fall.
“I don't think it takes a genius to figure out how they beat us,” he said in a business-like postgame interview. “I knew going into the game what we'd be facing. I thought we'd tackle better. I really did.”
Croom said Auburn's running success early was helped when the Bulldogs missed assignments.
“Early on, we weren't fitting right in our gaps,” he said. “We were running some stunts to try and stop them before they got started.
“If everybody's not in the right spots, it can be difficult going one-on-one with those kind of running backs.”
Despite the thumping, Croom remained positive and rational about his new team's play.
Last week, they experienced success, beating Tulane 28-7 in their season opener.
“We've got a long ways to go. I've been saying that since day one,” Croom said, then paused.
He added, “That's not as good as we can play. That's what bothers me. If we had played at our maximum level, I don't know if we could have won the football game. But I do know that's not as good as we can play.”
Croom's message to his players postgame was straight and to the point.
He said, “I told our players in the dressing room, if they think that's as good as they can play, then they're in the wrong place.”
Gene Phelps (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor for the Daily Journal