Mississippi State's 38-31 upset of Florida last Saturday ended up costing Gators coach Ron Zook his job, but fans in Starkville hope it is the beginning of something big for Bulldogs first-year coach Sylvester Croom. After a season-opening 28-7 win over Tulane, Mississippi State lost five straight--including defeats to Division I-AA Maine and Vanderbilt--and some of the good feeling over the hiring of Croom, the SEC's first African-American head coach, faded. That changed after Jerious Norward scored on a 37-yard run with 32 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a victory over the 20th-ranked Gators. "I've been in a lot of big games in my career, but this was the biggest win," Croom said on Sunday.
One of the most encouraging things about the game for Croom was that his offensive line, a weak spot early in the season, dominated Florida, helping to spring Norwood for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. "One of the keys for the line has been the development of Brian Anderson," says Croom of his 6'5", 309-pound sophomore left guard. "He's fast, and he's starting to come around."
The return of sophomore quarterback Omarr Conner, who missed the previous two games with a sprained right knee, sparked Mississippi State's sputtering offense. Conner, who moved from wide receiver to quarterback in spring practice, rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, and completed 15 of 24 passes for 158 yards and another score.
"I wasn't sure we were going to win, but I thought our guys would give us all they had," said Croom, who admits that Mississippi State lacks the talent of the top-tier SEC teams. "This shows our players that a plan is in place, and it sends a positive message to our recruits that we are building toward a championship program."