Bulldogs Give Mullen A 10-7 Happy Return

Dan Mullen made a proud point during the week that he'd enjoyed a lot of success on Florida Field. That was with the home team, of course, but the now-Mississippi State coach was speaking to another audience. His team. The Bulldogs got that message and score a sizable success of their own Saturday night with a 10-7 SEC victory.

A missed 40-yard field goal at 0:04 allowed Mississippi State players to pour out onto Florida Field a little early and a lot ecstatic, not minding the obligatory sportsmanship penalty. The win, Mississippi State's fourth-straight, gave the Bulldog a 5-2 mark overall and evened the conference record at 2-2. #22-ranked Florida left their own field 4-3, 1-3 SEC, and simply stunned; not only by a third-straight loss, but by how they were beaten.

In fact Mullen, who aided UF Coach Urban Meyer for a decade at three various stops including 2005-08 with the Gators, went old-school on his old boss. His Bulldogs went muscle on muscle and overpowered on both sides of the ball. Even more dramatically, State's offense got all the points they would ultimately provide in the opening quarter, and the Dog defense made that hold up with a bit of timely assistance from punter Heath Hutchins.

The key was a ground game that was fundamental, not flashy. State stayed with the run for 49 of their 58 offensive snaps, producing 212 yards and a six-yard touchdown run by QB Chris Relf at ):45 of the opening period. That lone Dog touchdown came after PK Sean Brauchle booted a 31-yard field goal midway of the period. Nobody would have thought this slender margin would last 45 more clock minutes, though State had scored more first quarter points than the Gators had allowed in the previous three SEC game opening periods.

What pounding the ground also did for MSU was keep the clock moving, far more effectively than a narrow difference in pure possession time showed. With senior center J.C. Brignone sidelined, State had to ride the starting five linemen all game if possible. It was, and they did.

And just as importantly, State did not commit a single turnover though a couple of balls did come close to getting loose at the wrong times. Florida by contrast had one pass picked, and lost what might have been a fatal fumble when driving into kicking range midway of the fourth quarter.

State deferred and gave Florida first turn, which began well with a Gator hold on the return and a third down incompletion. The Bulldogs were three-and-out on their own initial series as well, with a false start on third down not helping.

State's defense cranked up the pass rush and on 3rd-and-10 LB Chris White came through to sack Brantley for loss of eight. WR Chad Bumphis fair-caught the punt at MSU's 32-yard line. On second down Relf had time to find Bumphis open 30 yards away, at the Gator 35. Relf called his own number up the middle for another 18 yards. Three rushes and only a yard gained later Brauchle knocked a 31-yard field goal through at 8:03.

The Dogs covered Brauchle's short field goal well for Gator starting position on their 28-yard line. A first down run got little but S Nickoe Whitley exchanged slaps with Matt Gillislie and was flagged for 15 yards. Tailback Mike Gillislee made it sting with a fast 15-yard sweep to State's 39. But on third down CB Corey Broomfield tripped up the receiver short of the marker, and Florida gambled on a 4th-and-5 pass. John Brantley left it high off his target's hands so CB Johnthan Banks could pick it with with a return to the 36.

Two snaps later Relf was walloped right in the facemask on a throw by Ronald Powell, resulting in a personal foul and the MSU quarterback sitting a necessary snap. Ballard made it worthwhile with a 11-yard burst, and later would have gone the distance had he not run into OT Derek Sherrod after a 6-yard gain. A returned Relf moved the chains himself on third down and Perkins made another conversion with a gainer to the 11. On second down FB Patrick Hanrahan subbed in and his block on the left corner opened the seam for Relf to make the goal line at 0:45 for a 10-0 lead.

A block in the back had Florida starting on their 15. Rushes of seven and nine yards, around the quarter change; and on 3rd-and-10 State had receiver Trey Burton wrapped for a short gain. But he squirmed free and was dragged down a foot shy of the mark. Florida thought it over at 13:40 and tried again on a fourth down.

An end-around with Robert Clark lost two yards as DT Fletcher Cox caught him in the backfield. The MSU offense failed to take advantage of possession on the Gator 37 though, with three incompleted passes and a punt into the end zone.

Deonte Thompson's 18-yard sideline catch netted one Gator first down, and Frankie Hammond hauled in another for a big gainer cut in half by a Florida personal foul. Soon it was another fourth down and again the Gators tried. This time it worked as soft coverage allowed a side-out throw and gainer to State's 33-yard line. Jeff Demps moved the chains again, to the 21-yard line, and Mullen used a timeout at 8:43.

Maybe the break helped his defense recover; or maybe it threw the Gators off their stride. Because Florida false-started, Brantley took a sack from White and K.J. Wright, and on 3rd-and-5 somebody went the wrong way and left Brantley unprotected for another bagging. Chas Henry attempted a 38 yard field goal and left it wide left at 6:52.

Relf made eight on 3rd-and-5 with a nice diving block by Ballard, before the series stalled at the 42. Hutchins got off a fast and good one and S Marvin Bure made the tackle at the 14-yard line. That left the Gators 3:07 to make something happen. They didn't, though failure by S Wade Bonner to wrap up Thompson on a short third-down catch did extend the series. But State's White ran down Brantley on the next third down. A 67-yard punt died with a couple ticks still showing but the officials wisely let those wind away. So State took a 10-0 lead into their locker room, while the home crowd booed the Gators into theirs.

The second half kickoff was short and mishandled with S Zach Smith alertly falling on a loose ball at the 27-yard line. Nine straight rushes took State across midfield before Relf ran into a wall on 3rd-and-4 at the Gator 45. Hutchins punted into the end zone at 9:40.

Burton got the locals cheering as he converted 3rd-and-7 with a keeper for 16 yards, and Gillislee gained another quick ten to the 49. State used a timeout on 3rd-and-7 to avoid a participation penalty, but Burton bounced off a tackle to move the marker to State's 38. An option pitch gained 12 more and Demps broke left tackle down to the Dog nine-yard line.

On third and goal at the five, Burton drew the defense and pitched to Hines for the touchdown at 4:15 as Hammond had State's Banks locked up at the goal line.

Florida's kickoff tailed out of bounds so State began at the 40-yard line. Three runs left a yard to go and State didn't dare risk it, and Hutchins' punt was caught at the nine. This time on 3rd-and-3 Burton never had a chance as two Dogs swallowed him at the line. The punt was unpressured but still short with State taking over at the midfield stripe as the quarters changed.

Disaster nearly struck as Bumphis lost the ball after a 18-yard dash to begin the fourth period, but the ruling was he'd been down first. Ballard punched out 12, then six yards and Relf made it first-and-goal at the Gator ten. He bulled inside the five, putting State in position for the knockout…only for it all to come back as Sherrod was called for a hold.

Still the chance was there for a little MSU margin with Brauchle kicking a 40-yarder. It missed right at 10:56, giving Florida another emotional and practical lift. They took advantage with a 60-yard drive mixing quarterbacks as needed. Burton kept on an option for one first down, then flipped to Hines on the same side as Broomfield had to bite on the quarterback. This time the receiver dashed 31 yards down to the Bulldog 23. Hines even came up with a high snap off Brantley's hands for a modest gain.

But the next loose ball ended up in MSU hands. S Cameron Lawrence tripped Demps as he turned on a catch, with K.J. Wright beating everyone including teammates to the loose ball at State's 17. There was 7:50 on the clock and with Relf and Ballard punching between the tackles for steady gains the Bulldogs made on, then two, then a third first down to the Gator 41.

Only to self-abort with a couple of false start calls by a receiver and a back, both youngsters over-hyped on the late game emotions. State stayed on the ground now to keep the clock going and not until 2:00 even did Florida regain possession…as Hutchins bounced his punt just inside the left sideline where CB Damein Anderson could catch the carom at the four-yard line.

Brantley got it going with completions of nine, 11, seven yards. The game very nearly ended as a throw at Demps glanced off and both Banks and Zach Smith had shots at the tip with 1:11 left. Wright would tip another ball, which did stop the clock. But Florida also had to throw short over the middle and tackles made them use up timeouts.

At 0:39 with fourth down Florida was too far to kick, but Burton got amazingly open on the left side and netted 13 yards to the MSU 30. The key error probably was a false start on first down by tackle Marcus Gilbert because it cost five yards; so with no timeouts left Florida had to hurry up whatever they tried. On 3rd-and-5 Brantley rolled right and evaded the rush just long enough to get outside the tackles and underarm sling the ball out of bounds, legally, at 0:09. The Gators had to kick it now, and miss.

Ballard carried for a season-high 20 times and came up just one lost-ground run of making a third 100-yard game, with 98. Relf ran 22 times himself for 82 yards. Four different Dogs accounted for each of the four completed passes out of Relf's nine throws, for only 33 yards.

Brantley was 24-of-39 for 210 yards with one pick, three sacks, and several bad drops. Hines ended up the leading rusher with 58 yards on just six carries and Burton netted 43 yards on eight runs, showing how explosive the Gators could be. Hammond caught five balls for 69 yards.

Hutchins averaged 43.3 on his six punts with three inside the 20-yard lines. And linebacker White was a monster with 11 tackles, 2.5 sacks—equaling his season total—and 4.5 stops for losses in all. Wright had eight tackles of his own.

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