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State wins dogfight

September 26, 2010

MSU running back Vick Ballard (28) gets tough yardage against the Georgia defense Saturday night. (Kim Murrell/SDN)

One yard.
That’s what Dan Mullen asked of his offense late in the game to ensure a victory and his team got the yard plus extra.
On a fourth-and-one from inside his own territory, Mississippi State made the do-or-die call of keeping the drive alive and junior tailback Vick Ballard found 4 yards up the middle for a first down.
“We need to believe in ourselves,” Mullen said. “It was pretty close. If I’m preaching to our kids we’re going to make the plays to win the game (then) I can’t shy away from making the call.”
Once State (2-2, 1-1) moved the chains, junior quarterback Chris Relf hit sophomore wide receiver Arceto Clark for a 33-yard touchdown strike on a route and pass play that was similar to last week when the play resulted in a interception at LSU.
Relf would finish the game with 232 total yards (135 passing, 97 rushing) and the fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
Mississippi State ended a nine-game losing streak to Georgia dating back to 1975 and hadn’t beaten UGA in Starkville since 1951.
“Coach Mullen broke down the season on Thursday for us,” sophomore wide receiver Chad Bumphis said. “We finished the first part 2-2 which is probably ahead of where anybody would have us.”
Diaz’s defense held Georgia’s offense out of the end zone for nearly the entire of MSU’s 24-12 win in front 56,721 fans representing the third largest crowd in Davis-Wade Stadium history.
Prior to a late Georgia (1-3, 0-3 in Southeastern Conference) touchdown pass in garbage time, MSU had gone 11 defensive possessions without allowing a touchdown. The 12 points given up to UGA were the least given up since a 7-6 win in 1970.
“You can preach it so long and then it’s got to happen,” Diaz said.
On the offensive side, it came down to a fourth-and-one call from inside his own territory and MSU’s head coach never had any intention of sending the punt team on the field.
“We need to believe in ourselves,” Mullen said. “I saw that on the sidelines today. I’m proud of the step we took tonight.”
Relf finished the game with 232 total yards (135 passing, 97 rushing) and the fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
On its first offensive series of the game, Mississippi State carved through Georgia’s new 3-4 defensive scheme for 53 yards on just four plays ending with a 13-yard scamper by junior Vick Ballard on a option pitch and the former junior college All-American selection went untouched into the end zone.
Ballard finished the night with 77 yards on 14 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
“We wanted to come out fast and get a fast start,” Mullen said. “We finally went out and made some of those plays we haven’t been making.”
After marching 79 yards down the field on the very next possession, Georgia couldn’t get that last inch. Georgia sophomore tailback Washaun Early fumbled the ball as he approached the goal line on a pass from quarterback Aaron Murray down the middle of the field. Redshirt freshman Nickoe Whitley didn’t hear a whistle and recovered the ball in the end zone and after a replay review, it was determined to be Mississippi State’s possession and the first turnover of the game.
“That play from a mentality standpoint would allow us to play from ahead the whole night,” Diaz said. “That idea right there was a key as anything for our confidence.”
Murray finished the game 18-of-31 for 274 yards and a touchdown but had struggled to find open receivers in the red zone.
The loss for Georgia is the first three-game conference losing streak during the decade-long Mark Richt era.
“We’re definitely in a place that I’ve never been in as a player or a coach,” Richt said. “I never would’ve predicted it, but that’s where we’re at.”
Richt pointed to three UGA turnovers and a 40-yard touchdown pass that would’ve given the visitors its first lead of the night getting called back due to a holding call as the critical mistakes by his squad.
“If you go by watching film down by down, you’d say we’re not as far off as some people,” Richt said. “If you look at record, then we are pretty far off of where we want to be.”
After what appeared to confusion on a common punt play, Mississippi State created another break for themselves as Heath Hutchins punt bounced off the thigh of Georgia sophomore Bacarri Rambo and was recovered by walk-on sophomore Chris Cameron giving MSU the football at Georgia’s 45-yard-line.
The drive would end in disappointment for the Starkville faithful as a gadget play that involved tailback LaDarius Perkins’ pass to Relf on a wheel route being through straight to Georgia’s senior outside linebacker Darryl Gamble.
“(MSU offensive coordinator) Les Koenning called a great game tonight,” Mullen said. “I called one play and that was the interception on the trick play and I went to (MSU director of football operations) Jon Clark and said ‘don’t let me make anymore stupid play calls. Tell me to keep my mouth shut’.”
Georgia would have two 15-play drives get stranded in the Mississippi State red zone resulting in a pair of field goals by junior Blair Walsh. UGA would end the first 30 minutes dominating in total yards (230-115), passing yards (164-58) and time of possession (19:50-8:49) but the scoreboard at Davis-Wade Stadium would read MSU ahead 7-6 as both teams headed to the locker room.
“It’s very frustrating,” Georgia senior wide receiver Kris Durham said. “We shoot ourselves in the foot when we have great opportunities. Mississippi State capitalized on their opportunities.”
At the end of the game, a chop block by a Georgia offensive lineman had both teams’ players and coaches in heated discussions after the game.
Mississippi State now hopes to get halfway to bowl eligibility when they host Football Championship Subdivision opponent Alcorn State next week.

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