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On what he called the most important day of the spring, his quarterbacks went out and had their best day of 2011 putting a smile on the face of Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen after a two-hour scrimmage at Davis Wade Stadium Saturday morning.
"We're a quarterback driven offense and those guys were on today," Mullen said. "When we're throwing the ball like we did today, we're going to have the ability to put up some numbers."
It started on the first play when senior-to-be Chris Relf found Chad Bumphis in stride for a 65-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Relf, the 2011 Gator Bowl Most Valuable Player, unofficially ended the day 22-of-26 for 280 yards and two touchdowns against MSU's first-string defense.
"(That pass) really set the tone for the offense because I read two-deep (coverage) and then took a shot," Relf said. "I think Coach Mullen knows I have a grasp of this offense and has the confidence in me to make the plays consistently now."
For Relf, who is going through his third spring in Mullen's spread-option offense, it was just a day that the offense won and therefore didn't have to run after the workout.
"We've got to just eliminate the mistakes but the defense did whoop us pretty good the last two weeks," Relf said. "It feels good to come out here and execute well."
There were 15 different receivers throughout the three units of offense who caught a pass Saturday with soon-to-be junior Bumphis leading the way with 121 yards on six catches including the game-opening score.
"It can't get any better than that for a first play," Relf said. "Once Chad gets in the seam like that, he's gone."
The one noticeable difference in Relf's demeanor was a two-minute drill situation at the end when the Montgomery, Ala., native led the offense 70 yards by completing 8-of-9 passes with the only incompletion being a spike of the ball to stop the clock once. After the Bulldogs first-string offense killed the clock, Relf found junior-to-be wide receiver Brandon Heavens for a 13-yard touchdown strike in the back of the end zone with what Mullen said was 14 seconds left on the game clock.
"The two-minute offense is how you win games," senior offensive lineman Quentin Saulsberry said. "Chris was the man of the day for me."
For the five men up front blocking for Relf, it was a more consistent day with the only faulty snap being over the head of third-string quarterback Dylan Favre and the only question mark still being the replacement for All-Southeastern Conference selection and projected first round pick Derek Sherrod at left tackle.
Redshirt freshman Blaine Clausell was working mostly with the first-team unit as the quarterbacks blind side protector as senior James Carmon still adjusts to the development of the position change from defensive tackle.
"I guess the fact we have four more spring practices and 29 before a game, I don't let it concern me or put me in too much of a panic right now," Mullen said. "I'm not comfortable with it. There's two guys that have the ability to do it but we have to get them ready to do it so that's a comforting feeling."
In a day where the defense gave up lots of points, big numbers and long scoring plays, Mullen was frustrated with what he saw as a step back for that unit on Saturday afternoon. The first-string defense did not get a single three-and-out all afternoon long.
"From play one, they gave up a big touchdown pass and nobody stepped up," Mullen said. "They let that be the theme of the day."
Two projected defensive starters that did not participate in the scrimmage today were linebacker Cameron Lawrence, who suffered a strained quad muscle earlier in the week, and junior-to-be defensive tackle Devin Jones as the Olive Branch product had surgery to repair a broken hand Friday. Jones will be active for the Bulldogs final week of practices.
Working with the second-string players and against mostly backups on the MSU defense, former Parade All-American product Tyler Russell was unofficially 17-of-22 for 189 yards and a touchdown showing poise by consistently hitting redshirt freshman Malcolm Johnson as the 220-pound target begins the transition to a hybrid tight end position.
"I expect him to continue to grow up and I like what I'm seeing out of him so far," Saulsberry said. "Tyler has stepped up and helped everybody in the communication."
Former East Webster star Johnthan Banks had a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown on a play that was doomed from the beginning for the kicking team. After the snap went five yards over the head of sophomore punter Baker Swendenburg, Banks picked up the rugby-style punt off the bounce and scampered nearly untouched for the score.
Derek DePasquale showed why he is in line for the starting kicker job by connecting on field goals from 35 and 43 yards away but had a 45-yard attempt blocked by redshirt freshman defensive back Matthew Wells.
Mississippi State showed more immediate flash in the running game Saturday with Vick Ballard, LaDarius Perkins and Adrian Marcus each having touchdown runs of 20 yards or more.
"We came out with more intensity than we'd had in previous scrimmages and practices," Perkins said. "We couldn't be stopped by the defense today."
Marcus, a walk-on fullback, had a 38-yard touchdown run where he broke three tackles on his way to the end zone and would complete the day with 82 yards on the ground on five carries.
Mississippi State has four more spring practices upcoming this week that concludes with the Maroon-White game on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Davis Wade Stadium.