MSU Notebook: Conner 'more in control' as Bulldogs' QB
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
By Jim Kleinpeter
BATON ROUGE – For Mississippi State quarterback Omarr Conner, the physical pain from last year’s loss to LSU was nothing compared to the mental anguish of watching it on film.
“I made a lot of crazy plays,” Conner said of Mississippi State’s 51-0 loss in Tiger Stadium. “I was impatient and trying to make stuff happen that wasn’t there.”
At the end, neither was Conner. He left the game with a knee injury suffered on the first possession of the second half and didn’t return. That was after being sacked twice, hit several other times and harassed into a four-for-12 passing day with three interceptions and 44 yards.
It’s much easier now for Conner, a junior from Macon, Miss., to see the game as a learning experience and he’d like very much to show LSU how much better he is when the Tigers come to Davis-Wade Stadium for Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. game.
Last season gave Conner a running start in guiding the West Coast offense favored by second-year coach Sylvester Croom and offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey. A shotgun quarterback throughout high school, Conner had to make the adjustment to the three- and five-step drop-back passing format and throwing on rhythm as a sophomore. It didn’t help that Conner played wide receiver as a freshman, costing him valuable development time, but he’s improved.
Conner has hit on 59 of 101 passes (58.4) percent for 662 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions. Those numbers might be even better if Conner could get off to a better start. Against Tulane he was two for eight for 14 yards and an interception in the first half before going 11 of 18 with two touchdowns in the second. Against Georgia, he was three for 13 for 42 yards in the first half and 13 of 19 for 163 in the second, with one touchdown.
“He’s a lot better than last year, a lot better three-step and five-step drop-back passer,” Croom said. “He’s got a lot better command of the offense, he knows where people are and his mechanics are a lot better. He’s playing with a lot of courage and has stepped up and shown some leadership. Right now he’s way ahead of where he was last year."
For proof, Croom pointed out that against Georgia, Conner on one play checked down to his fourth receiver and completed a pass to Jerious Norwood, something he could never have done last season.
Conner credits his coaches’ perseverance and the support of his teammates in helping him along.
“The guys look at me as a leader now,” he said. “You feel totally different when your guys are believing in you. I’ve learned a lot since last year and I try to learn a little more every day from Coach Croom and Coach McCorvey.
“I’ve got to try and stay more consistent in the first half. Early in the game I’m too pumped up. It takes me some time to settle down.”
Conner still has to fight the urge to run for his life, given the performance of the offensive line. In SEC games against Auburn and Georgia, he has been sacked nine times. And he still fumbles a snap now and then while getting used to being under center. But overall he said he finally has a feel for his position.
“I feel a lot more in control, a lot more like a quarterback,” he said.
BAD MEMORIES: Croom said last year’s game wasn’t just bad for Conner. It was one of the lowest of low points in his first year. LSU held Mississippi State to 130 net yards and seven first downs. The Tigers also lost four fumbles and the Bulldogs still couldn’t score.
“Basically, we should have just walked out there and conceded and come on home,” Croom said. “Because it was that bad, we had no confidence, nobody played with any enthusiasm; we basically conceded the game before we got there. I was thoroughly disappointed that our guys didn’t compete.”
Mississippi State went on to finish 3-8, but upset Florida in Starkville.
FAMILY TIES: Croom told reporters Tuesday that he discovered he is distantly related to LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Croom said Russell’s father called him about it last summer and they discovered they knew a lot of the same people.
“It’s on my grandmother’s side,” said Croom, who was born and raised in Tuscaloosa. Russell is from Mobile, Ala.