MORGANTOWN — West Virginia (4-0) has been tagged a 28-point favorite over Mississippi State (1-4) for Saturday’s football game at Starkville, Miss.

But Sylvester Croom, the Bulldogs’ third-year head coach, said Monday that he expects his players to respond to the great challenge.

“It’s exciting when you play one of the better teams in the country,” he stated in a media teleconference. “This is the only way you can get better.

“You measure just how good you are individually and as a team. It’s exciting when you play the best people.”

MSU is coming off a 48-17 loss at ninth-ranked LSU, and Croom readily admitted that it’s tough to have to play two Top 10 teams back-to-back.

“But we are playing them at home,” he said of the No. 4-ranked Mountaineers.

“I’m pleased that we continue to fight throughout a game. We get better as the game goes on.”

However, Croom said the Bulldogs must get off to a better start than they did against LSU. The Tigers had taken a 30-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“It’s something we’ve worked on and talked about,” he said of slow starts. “We had to get out of our run game pretty early (vs. LSU) because we got behind.”

Nonetheless, Croom said his players kept battling and just executed much better in the second half. Trailing by 35-3 at halftime, MSU scored 13 points in the second half while holding LSU to 14.

“We were moving the ball, and we wanted to challenge them,” he noted. “We opened up a little bit.”

Croom thought freshman running back Arnil Stallworth played well, as did junior wideout Tony Burks. Defensively, he lauded linebacker Quinton Culbertson, free safety Jeramie Johnson and strong safety Jarvis Kyles.

“We had a good effort throughout the game,” he said. “Our offensive line played a very good game. That’s one of the areas that continues to get better.

“We were not as disciplined in the secondary. We had too many missed assignments. But their quarterback did an outstanding job.”

Croom said the Bulldogs obviously must try to slow down WVU’s highly productive rushing attack.

“West Virginia has great speed, and those two outstanding athletes (Steve Slaton and Patrick White) are going to be a great task for us,” he declared.

“We’ve got to do good things on the defensive front. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week in practice.”

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