JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Chris Relf threw three touchdown passes, Vick Ballard ran for three scores and No. 21 Mississippi State overwhelmed Michigan 52-14 Saturday in the Gator Bowl.
The 38-point drubbing was the worst bowl loss in Michigan's storied history and may have sealed the fate of Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez. His three-year tenure has been tainted by consecutive losing seasons, NCAA sanctions and late-season slides.
Michigan (7-6) was out of this game early, done in again by a defense that made a middle-of-the-pack Southeastern Conference offense look like a juggernaut.
Relf and Ballard posed problems all day. Relf completed 18 of 23 passes for 281 yards, and added 49 yards on the ground. Ballard ran for 77 yards. The Bulldogs (9-4) finished with 485 yards and punted twice.
Denard Robinson, the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, played every snap for Michigan and was dynamic as usual. He threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 58 yards. But he got little help.
Now, he might get a new coach.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon has not offered any public support for Rodriguez, who fell to 15-22 and 1-11 against ranked teams. Brandon has said he will evaluate Rodriguez after the game. Speculation has been that he will fire Rodriguez and try to hire Stanford coach and former Wolverines quarterback Jim Harbaugh to lead college football's winningest program.
Rodriguez's buyout dropped from $4 million to $2.5 million Saturday.
Michigan's finale, the team's sixth loss in its last eight games, could make Brandon's decision an easier one.
The Wolverines scored on two of their first three possessions — Robinson created big plays with his arm and his feet — but they did little the rest of the day.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, scored just about time it had the ball. The Bulldogs welcomed the warm weather and figured the 75-degree heat would work in their favor.
It was hard to tell how much it affected Michigan, which allowed 34 or more points for the eighth time in the last nine games.
The Bulldogs scored on all five possessions in the first half and led 31-14 at the break. Relf, wearing No. 36 to honor late teammate Nick Bell, hooked up with Arceto Clark for a 4-yard touchdown in the first quarter and hit Ricco Sanders for a 15-yard strike late in the second. In between, Relf ran for a score.
Ballard scored from 2, 1 and 7 yards as Mississippi State pounded Michigan inside and out.
LaDarius Perkins had the biggest play of the game. He slipped out of the backfield, caught a dump pass from Relf and scampered 81 yards. Brandon Heavens wiped out two Wolverines with a downfield block to free Perkins. James Rogers made a touchdown-saving tackle for Michigan at the 7, but Ballard scored on the next play to make it 45-14 late in the third.
Mississippi State fan's clanging cowbells had taken over at that point, completely drowning out the boos from Michigan's faithful.