Gritty Bulldogs try to build on clutch win

Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf wasn’t perfect.

There were a few bad passes. He fumbled once, and was lucky to

recover it.

But during the most important moments of Saturday’s 24-12

victory over Georgia, Relf led the offense on a 10-play, 93-yard

touchdown drive that might have changed the season. The final play

was a perfectly executed 33-yard touchdown pass to Arceto

Clark.

”Chris made a really nice throw,” Mississippi State coach Dan

Mullen said. ”And Arceto made a really nice catch.”

That may sound simple. But for this Mississippi State program,

it could be a monumental step in the right direction as the

Bulldogs try to qualify for a bowl came for the first time since

2007 and only the second time in a decade.

Up until Relf’s touchdown throw, Mullen’s two-year tenure in

Starkville had been mostly defined by moral victories and

oh-so-close moments. But now the Bulldogs have a legitimate victory

to build upon after ending a nine-game losing streak to Georgia

that dated back to 1974.

Mullen said it was impressive to watch his team grow up over a

60-minute period.

”I saw less panic out of our guys when they did make a mistake

– it was a big thing for us,” Mullen said. ”If you make a mistake

during the game that’s fine, but don’t let the mistake carry over

to the next play.”

After a brutal early-season schedule that included losses to two

ranked teams – Auburn and LSU – the Bulldogs now have an

opportunity to make some headway.

Mississippi State (2-2) hosts Alcorn State (3-0), which plays in

the Football Championship Subdivision, at 11 a.m. on Saturday at

Davis-Wade Stadium. The following four games are against Houston,

Florida, UAB and Kentucky.

That’s not exactly a breeze, but it’s also not out of the

question that the Bulldogs could be bowl-eligible by Halloween.

Even with the easier schedule, the Bulldogs do have their share

of issues. The offense is still spotty, averaging just 15 points

per game in three Southeastern Conference games. Mullen said his

team made five critical errors during the game that could have

resulted in turnovers, but thanks to some lucky bounces there was

no harm.

”It is a fine line between being really, really happy on a

Sunday, and really upset on a Sunday,” Mullen said.

Relf was very good against Georgia, completing 9 of 14 passes

for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 109 yards on

20 carries. Though he’s certainly not a finished product, the

6-foot-4, 240-pound junior is starting to morph from a unpolished

young player to a veteran.

”He’s a very tough guy and he continues pushing,” Clark said.

”When he does that, it gives the rest of the team momentum and the

will to keep driving.”

The Bulldogs also have freshman quarterback Tyler Russell, who

didn’t play against Georgia, but has been used extensively. He’s

more of a passing threat than Relf, and Mullen said there’s still

situations where he could be used.

Chad Bumphis continues to be the go-to receiver, making four

catches for 64 yards against Georgia. Mullen said the offensive

line cleaned up many of its early-season problems, giving Relf more

time to decide whether to run or throw.

Mississippi State’s strength remains its defense, which kept

Georgia out of the end zone on Saturday until late in the fourth

quarter after the game was well in hand. Linebacker K.J. Wright

dominated, finishing with seven tackles, four pass breakups, three

quarterback hurries and half a sack.

”I told our kids we’re already good,” Diaz said. ”If all

we’re concerned about is being good, we’re already there and we can

have a good parade if we want to. But I see glimpses of dominance,

and that’s what we want to be. We want to be dominant.”