Next AU foe knows about criticism
By Ross Dellenger
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AUBURN — Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom was shocked when he heard about it.
A professor humiliated his starting quarterback during class?
Croom sided with Michael Henig, telling the junior that he did the right thing and that he had his full support in the matter.
On the heels of throwing six interceptions in a season-opening 45-0 loss to No. 2 LSU, Henig was bombarded with criticism.
"Some of it was downright nasty," Croom said.
Henig knew some negativity would come his way, but he never imagined this.
"Some of the things that I got I didn't expect," said Henig, a Montgomery native who grew up an Auburn fan. "Some of the (people) that I got stuff from, you don't expect it from."
Like one of Henig's professors at Mississippi State, who made a negative comment about the quarterback in front of the class, prompting Henig to storm out in frustration and embarrassment. Neither Henig nor Croom would say what the instructor said.
"He told me what he did, and I said, 'As long as you handled it and gave the professor the respect that is due — just because of his position — then you did the right thing,' " Croom said. "Based on what I understand he did, I support him totally."
Croom added, "He handled it with class and made his feelings known without being too disrespectful."
And then he came out and threw for a touchdown while running for another in Mississippi State's 38-17 win at Tulane on Saturday. Henig completed 20 of his 31 attempts for 223 yards against the Green Wave, as the Bulldogs got a rare road win.
Mississippi State (1-1, 0-1 SEC) will try Saturday to get just its second Southeastern Conference road victory in the last six years when the Bulldogs play at Auburn (1-1, 0-0) at 11:30 a.m.
Mississippi State beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season for maybe the biggest victory of the Croom era. Not only did it break the lengthy conference road losing skid that dated back to 2000, but it gave Croom his first win over his alma mater — the school that once shunned him for its head coaching position, hiring the recently fired Mike Shula instead.
Henig will be in a similar boat Saturday. Growing up just an hour's drive from Auburn, Henig was raised a Tiger from birth. His mom and sister were Auburn cheerleaders. His cousins all went to Auburn.
"I went to every game. I was a real big Auburn fan," Henig said following Mississippi State's practice Monday night. "You know, things just didn't work out with Auburn, so I am here now and ready to go back to Auburn."
Emerging from high school as just a two-star recruit, Auburn showed little interest for the skinny Jeff Davis High School senior. Instead, the Tigers signed another two-star quarterback prospect that year: Blake Field.
Henig was offered a scholarship by Louisville, but chose Mississippi State in February 2004.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder said he will have little trouble handling the emotions Saturday when he walks into Jordan-Hare Stadium, a place where Henig made so many memories as a child decked in burnt orange and navy blue.
"Just like that first game: bad game ... come back the second game and have a good game," Henig said.
He blames his rough outing in the opener on LSU's suffocating defense. With just a minute left in the first half of the game, the Bulldogs were holding their own, only down 10-0. But Henig threw an interception and minutes later LSU had a 17-0 halftime advantage.
"If I would have cut down on the turnovers, we would have had a chance," he said.
Henig has shown he can turn a week of negativity into a positive with his play against Tulane. He said the same will happen against Auburn because he was blessed with an ability to block out things that happen around him and focus on his job as a quarterback.
But Henig needed some help last week after the incident in the classroom. He sought out his coach.
"(It) really, really got to him," Croom said. "He called me and explained how he handled it. I backed him totally on it. I just wanted Mike to know that I supported him and he should talk to the professor if he needed to."
Henig did so, confronting the teacher.
"He said he didn't know that I was in his class," Henig said. "He realizes that he was wrong, and he apologized."
On the second drive of the game against Tulane, Henig threw an interception. As he came off the field, a smattering of boos from traveling MSU fans rained down upon him. A series later, he ran 18 yards for a touchdown, finally hushing the negativity of the past week.
"It shows what kind of young man he is," Croom said, "and I am very proud of him and the way he did bounce back."
But the feeling in Auburn will be different from the negative atmosphere he blocked out in the Louisiana Superdome. He will have a different animal to shut out of his mind this Saturday: home.
"I know how I felt when I went back to Tuscaloosa," Croom said. "You feel that way. When you go home, that's just the way it is."
MississippiState at Auburn
5 facts about Mississippi State
Five things you may not know about Mississippi State
Mississippi State’s home field — Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field — is the second-oldest Division I-A on-campus football stadium in the country.
Of head coach Sylvester Croom’s nine assistant coaches, six of them coached at Alabama sometime during their careers.
Mississippi State receivers coach Pat Washington played quarterback at Auburn from 1982-1985. Washington, a native of Mobile, started during his junior and senior seasons, throwing for more than 1,290 yards and leading the Tigers to the Liberty Bowl and then the Cotton Bowl. He was 2-0 against Mississippi State.
Before Jackie Sherrill came to Mississippi State in 1991, the Bulldogs program had been invited to just six bowl games in more than 100 years of playing football. Sherrill, who resigned at the end of the 2003 season, led MSU to six bowl games during his 13-year tenure.
Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom played center for Bear Bryant at Alabama. During his playing career, the Crimson Tide won three SEC championships from 1972-1974. He was 2-1 against Auburn, the only loss coming in 1972 when the Tide fell in the legendary 17-16 game.
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