Bulldog Egg Bowl Notebook

Other quarterbacks have been on the Bulldog roster for three Egg Bowl-winning teams. Very few have actually played in a trio of those victories though, and none as the position is currently defined have started all three wins. But Chris Relf will leave Mississippi State with as close to a three-peat in the rivalry as possible in the post-WWII era.

The Mississippi State senior wrapped up his regular-season career with two wins over Ole Miss as the starting quarterback (2010 and now '11); and another where he took over late in the second quarter and sparked the Bulldogs to their upset 2009 victory. In roughly ten total quarters, Relf was 24-of-38 passing against Rebel teams for 401 yards with seven touchdowns. He also rushed for 246 yards and another score along the way.

So it will take some serious researching to find any State triggerman with a comparable scoresheet against the arch-rivals. But was Relf strutting after completing the three-year streak? For that matter was he feeling all rewarded and affirmed by getting another chance to torment Ole Miss?

"Aww, I always feel the same!" Relf said. "I just have to be confident, when my number is called I just have to play ball."

It says much for Relf's resilient attitude he wasn't rubbing anything in, considering how his senior season had developed. Particularly losing his starting job for four of the past five games and not playing at all in two contests, though in the Arkansas case it was for the concussion suffered against Alabama. In fact, following that game Coach Dan Mullen pronounced Tyler Russell was ‘out starting quarterback'. Which obviously did not mean he was going to start the next game.

"When we got back and thought about it, we wanted to start as many seniors as we could today," Mullen said. "And we fully planned on rotating those guys." So much for planning, because after hanging two touchdown drives on Ole Miss in the first three series State had it's starter…or manager, as Mullen called it. "Chris was playing pretty well, we were moving the ball really well in the first half." Which did not surprise the head coach. "You could see today coming in before the game he had a little confidence about him more than he has other times."

Offensive coordinator/QB coach Les Koenning was hit by the question Monday of game week. "And remember I said buy a ticket? I mean, we pretty much had our ticket early in the week," he admitted. "We knew exactly who was going to start, but we didn't want to let everybody know. Obviously this game is critical."

Of course any Rebel coach not suspecting a role for Relf, starting or not, would have been derelict in duty based on the quarterback's history. Call it trend, tendency, or just intensity, but Relf came through one more time for one more trademark win.

And however blasé he acted post-game, teammates knew how much it mattered. "Man, I was so happy, because Chris has been through a lot of adversity this season," TB Vick Ballard said. "Just to see a smile on his face at the end of game kind of made me sentimental."

"Chris had a good Egg Bowl," said Koenning. "He came out strong, he came out with some focus and some intensity. He was really good and I was glad to see that. He bailed us out of some long-yardage situations, and took care of the football."

For the final record, though, it is forgotten now how Relf actually played run-out-clock duty in the 2008 debacle in Oxford, throwing 2-of-8 for 13 yards. But that loss belonged to another starter, leaving Relf's legacy in the Egg Bowl close enough to Bulldog perfection.

CARRYING THE LOAD: Ballard was another State senior taking his Scott Field farewell in style. His old ground-pounding style, that is. Ballard erupted for 144 yards and a touchdown, on a 25-yard blast, to cap his regular season.

And, for historical point, to reach 1,000 rushing yards this season. He came in needing 135 to make the magic mark, and achieved it on his third rush of the fourth quarter. On 3rd-and-5 at the Rebel 31he shots straight up the middle for eight yards to top 1K.

Ballard knew how close he was, needing 135 yards going into this game. And, he could recall how close he was a year ago finishing with 968 in a dozen games (missing one non-conference contest). But, "I wasn't thinking about it," he said. "If you think about it going into a game you're not going to be as productive as you can. I tried to just focus on doing my job."

Which was good enough to get both job and milestone done. Ballard posted just the 11th 1,000 yard rushing season by a Bulldog ever, and is the eighth MSU man to do so. "I think his goal this year was getting to 1,000 yards rushing and he did," said Mullen. "He came up just short last year and I still feel bad he didn't get it."

Ballard will have another game to build his career total, which now stands at 1,977 yards in 24 games. He also now has 27 rushing touchdowns, tied with Michael Davis for second on the MSU all-time list; and 29 total scores. Impressive for a fellow passed-over out of high school by major programs, and signed by Mullen after two junior college seasons.

"When we ran out before the game while they were introducing the seniors, my football career kind of flashed in front of my eyes," said Ballard. "Ever since PeeWee, just everything. I'm so thankful because it's been a long hard road to get here."

BULLDOG BEAT DOWN: Ironically, it wasn't all that hard a route Ballard took to get his yards Saturday night. He did not have a negative run on any of his 23 rushes, and for all the Rebels he out-ran there were about as many he just ran over.

No insult meant, but Ballard just did not think Ole Miss' defense brought their best this time.

"I can think of two runs. On the screen when the guy missed the tackle," said Ballard, of his catch from Relf that became the 18-yard touchdown and first points of the night. "And then the second was when I broke outside and I thought the dude was going to put me out of bounds. But I broke the tackle and got a couple more yards. We played more physical than them, and they didn't do a great job wrapping up the tackles."

Perkins got the same first-hand impression as he also overpowered a lot of would-be tacklers. "Me and Vick were doing a lot of different things, Chris was throwing the ball pretty well, we were running well, the line was blocking really well. And the receivers were really blocking in the perimeter, that's how I scored the first touchdown." Admittedly twice wideouts were called for downfield holding, including one flag that brought back a Ballard run inside the one-yard line.

Those calls only delayed the Dogs because nothing was stopping them for most of three quarters. "We ran the ball good all night, we set the tone," said Ballard. "Coach Mullen said if set the tone early they'd lay down, and that looks like what they did."

By contrast, the Bulldog defense generally made the first hit count. Asked if he recalled any missed MSU tackles, "Yeah there were a couple in the backfield," Mullen said. "But overall our guys played well and we ran to the ball. We did that well, we got a lot of guys to the football on defense."

Led as usual by LB Cameron Lawrence with 14 tackles, his sixth double-digit stops game of the season.

NO MORE: Mullen's only regret was how State dialed it back once in charge 28-0 just minutes into the third quarter. He recalled how a year ago in Oxford, with a 31-9 lead, the Bulldogs relaxed enough so Ole Miss scored a pair of touchdowns and even had possession to attempt tying. He called it going into "cruise control" instead of keeping foot on the gas.

This time, "Creating the turnover and scoring right away to start the second half I think really gave us all the momentum we needed," Mullen said. "What I was worried about is from that point on we really got sloppy and gave them too many opportunities to come back and make plays."

But these Rebels had no such comeback in them, settling for a short field goal on their first real drive all game. "I think they wanted to make sure they got points on the board and see if they could get a defensive stop. And there was still a lot of time in the game." Fortunately the Bulldogs managed to burn enough of it off, and get the three points back in the fourth period, to make sure of a win.

And, a touchdown-less night for the Rebels. They did have another shot, a good one too, as after wholesale State substitutions they hit a 61-yard catch-and-run to the Bulldog six. On second down at the three Donte Moncrief caught a ball on the left-most edge of the end zone that was initially called a touchdown, then negated as review showed the foot hit sideline first.

Reserve LB Chris Hughes slammed Barry Brunetti down for nothing on the last UM snap. ""Oh, that means a lot!" said starting MLB Brandon Wilson. "With our second defense shutting them down at the three yard line is something good to see any time."

Mullen admitted had he milked the clock a little more on snaps in the fourth period there would have been no such last chance for pride points. "But those kids have earned their playing time. I'm proud, all our backups are in the game and make a stand there to finish the game. Because they had a lot of their starters still in."

HOME, AWAY, EITHER WAY: Besides scoring a third-straight win in the series, Mississippi State increased its lead since the Egg Bowl was returned to campus sites for 1991. This was the 21st meeting on either campus and now the Bulldogs hold a 12-9 advantage.

State has now won the last four games on Scott Field, but also took the '10 meeting in Oxford.

PARTY TIME: Mullen is the first Bulldog coach to win his first three Egg Bowls since Allyn McKeen took his first four in 1939-42. But he left the ritual post-game parading of the Golden Egg to his players, while staying onfield in the increasing rain to lead the club in the alma mater with the Famous Maroon Band.

"Coach said it was a championship game so the only thing we should focus on was bringing the Egg back to Starkville," said Perkins.

And, in another now-annual ritual, the Egg was formally re-presented to University president Dr. Mark Keenum in the locker room. "It's a special deal," Mullen said. "Because it's a trophy we won for all of us, every student and alumni involved in this University gets to celebrate having that trophy. And I thanked them all for buying in, when I came here we made this priority."

A permanent one that is. Any fears that with three rivalry wins in the book Mullen is fixing his focus elsewhere were banished. Immediately. "We'll enjoy having this trophy for the next year, but the focus on winning this game starts tomorrow." How early Sunday, November 27, 2011?

"If you come to our locker room tomorrow the clock will be reset and counting down," Mullen said, before pausing. "Is it a leap year?" Yes, 2012 is indeed the fourth year of this solar cycle. "That means we get an extra day of celebration this year?!" asked Mullen, rather rhetorically.

Just don't expect the celebrating to interfere with ongoing business. In fact Mullen has a Sunday morning staff meeting set to address the usual end-of-semester matters as well as bowl camp planning now that the Bulldogs are eligible. And as early as tomorrow some staff will be on the recruiting road, including Mullen later in the week.

All with one perpetual goal in mind, that of backing up the promise Mullen made to players and fans upon arrival in Starkville that Mississippi State will not lose any more Egg Bowls. "Yeah, I'll always say that. We don't ever plan on losing to this team again."

FOOT WORK: As part of the special golden-trimmed uniforms the Bulldogs also wore gilded shoes with maroon trim. Or almost all did. Specialists Baker Swedenburg and Derek DePasquale used their normal kicking cleats. Of course ‘normal' is a relative term because all season PK DePasquale has worn screeching-yellow shoes trimmed with purple.

The old footwear worked just fine. Swedenburg averaged 45.5 yards on his six punts, while DePasquale hit his only field goal try. He also knocked through four PATs, giving him 85 in as many tries for his career.

STREAKING: WR Chad Bumphis completed the regular season with a catch in all 12 games. It was his 100th career reception, too. But WR Chris Smith saw his streak snapped with the first reception-less game of the season. Five of the eight completed passes were caught by the two tailbacks, both of whom scored a touchdown in the process.

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