Bulldogs Kick Off Mullen Era In Style

First the long-predicted excitement was delayed a half-hour by Mother Nature. Then it was held up most of a half-game by self-inflicted issues. But once the Bulldog offense finally found their footing…yes. Just as Coach Dan Mullen promised, This was Exciting.

With the second-largest crowd ever at Davis Wade Stadium witnessing, and cheering, the Dan Mullen era of Mississippi State football got kicked off in style with a 45-7 victory over visiting Jackson State. Most of the style came after halftime, after the Bulldogs had converted frequent first-half opportunities into just a pair of touchdowns. But the defense more than did their part shutting down the Tigers, before a trio of third-quarter scores blew the afternoon game open as anticipated.

Mullen became the fourth-straight State coach to win his Bulldog debut, and did so in the first-ever meeting of teams from the Southeastern and Southwestern Athletic Conferences. A crowd of 54,231 turned out, patiently working through overloaded stadium gates and sitting out a 31-minute delay for lightning with a sharp shower thrown in. All but the handful of visiting fans were rewarded for the effort.

Jackson State won the toss and deferred, though before the teams could line up for kickoff the game itself was deferred by lightning striking within three miles. The teams returned at 3:04 and the Tigers booted the ball away. WR Leon Berry returned it two yards short of midfield, and Mullen tried trickery immediately with a flanker-reverse-pass. Freshman WR Chad Bumphis couldn't hook up with cohort O'Neal Wilder but it roused the faithful. So did a first down tote by HB Christian Ducre to JSU's 42, but two snaps later he lost the handle and Tiger Kerry Hoskins fell on the ball at their 37-yard line.

It didn't take long for the Tigers to give the ball back as a low punt snap ended up at JSU's 19-yard line. A big gainer to the five by WR Brandon Heavens was negated on a holding call, but QB Chris Relf—taking over the second series--took it on himself to run for 14 yards to the 12. And on second down he hit Bumphis on a quick square-out. The rookie made two lovely cuts, slipping by linebacker Marcus Jamison first and slicing behind a block back inside and across the goal line at 9:12.

Facing 3rd-and-2 Jackson State tried a pitch play with Rutland taking a hard hit as he unloaded to Darius Bolela who was caught for a loss. Another punt produced another low snap, this one recovered by punter Brett Bennet but Tay Bowser made the tackle at JSU's 22-yard line. Back at quarterback Lee rolled and found Ducre for 13 yards. A fumble and flag moved the ball back to the 21 and on fourth down Sean Brauchle left his first big-college field goal attempt wide at 4:37.

Jackson State drew two flags before getting a snap off for 1st-and-20 at their 11. Rutland got it all back and more by hitting Keenan Tillman in-stride behind a couple of Dogs for a 52-yard gainer. A first-down completion netted just two yards and the ball came loose; review showed it a fumble recovered by Relf kept on purpose for three yards then scrambled right end for 14 more across midfield. He got another first down with five yards in middle-traffic to the Tiger 35 but the quarter ended with State back at the 40 facing 3rd-and-15. State changed quarterbacks and Lee was able to go to TE Marcus Green twice for 21 net yards and first down. Ducre seemed to have doubled the lead on a bounce around left end but TE Kendrick Cook was called for a hold at the three-yard line, which looked clean enough. Regardless State was moved back to the 14 and two snaps later Brauchle was given a 32-yard chance. It missed to the right at 12:19.

The Tigers didn't keep the ball long as on third down Rutland did well just to recover a bad snap before losing five more yards. Berry fielded the successful punt and went down hard at State's 44-yard line at 10:17. But seven seconds later Ducre fumbled it right back to JSU, at the 45. Rutland had an open receiver on third down and overthrew at the 30-yard line, bringing a 34-yard punt.

Elliot moved the chains with two carries for a dozen yards before Relf underthrew an open target on third down. At least P Heath Hutchins had room to work with and hit a high 42-yarder. But the Tigers reversed the field as Carlos Everett beat substitute S Wade Bonner for a 31-yard gainer. On 3rd-and-2 Wilder should have caught Rutland's pass for a first down. The Tigers gambled on 4th-and-2 at the 36 but had to call time with the clock nearly gone. State stacked the box, Rutland tried to make a change, and JSU linemen jumped the snap. Now they punted and Berry fair-caught at his 21-yard line.

Elliot squirted for 17 yards on first down but on a successful sweep fullback Hanrahan was caught holding. A draw by Arnil Stallworth surprised JSU for a dozen yards and the halfback got a first down at the 49 with 2:24 left. A swing-out throw to Elliot was going well until another holding call on the end, this on Bumphis, moved State back to the 40. Lee, under pressure, hit ‘hot' man Stallworth and the halfback got exactly the needed gainer to JSU's 41 at 1:59.

WR Brandon McRae got another first down, at the 24 and went out of bounds too. A short throw to Stallworth netted first down again at the 14. Heavens couldn't come down with one on his fingertips in the end zone, and Lee faced 3rd-and-10 with 62 ticks showing. Lee pulled it down and kept to the left side, brought down a yard short. The official generously ruled he was out of bounds, stopping the clock, but Mullen called time at 0:53 to talk it over anyway. And, to put Relf in the shotgun; it might have been necessary as Lee had banged-up the throwing shoulder on his scramble.

Then again Relf would have been the choice in this short-yard setting anyway. It worked beautifully s he went around right end, the path cleared by RT Addison Lawrence, untouched for the 14-0 lead at 0:48.

Jackson State opened the second half on their 15 yard line. After two incompletions Rutland had a ball caught, but by the wrong team. As DE Pernell McPhee hammered the passer the throw into traffic for Anthony Mayles was tipped—it looked like LB Jamar Chaney--and caught by S Chris Mitchell. His return put State on the Tiger 15-yard line, and on third down Elliot timed his attack perfectly to step through an open middle seam and jog into the end zone at 13:07.

A third-down dump pass under pressure to Bolela got a Tiger first down. Facing 3-17 though Rutland was dropped on a scramble by CB Marcus Washington and fumbled with LB K.J. Wright recovering at the 34-yard line. After Ducre cut against the grain for 14 yards to the Tiger 19, Relf froze the rush with a slick fake and hit TE Marcus Green behind coverage in the end zone for a 28-0 lead at 8:15.

Even with a holding call Tiger QB Dedric McDonald still took a ten-yard sacking from DT Kyle Love so Bennett had to punt from his goal line. If State had come after this punt it was there for blocking but on the two-hop snap Bennett got it off, and a good roll just over midfield. On third down Relf hit WR Chris Smith for 14 yards to the Tiger 34, and the next play when Relf saw nobody open he took off through the vacated midfield for 20 more yards.

Relf had a ludicrous amount of time to stand stark-still while Bumphis worked in front of double-coverage to catch a bullet-throw in the end zone for the touchdown at 3:33.

MSU's Mitchell covered too closely on a 3rd-and-10 throw for pass interference and JSU first down at their 28. It didn't matter though as a Tiger pitch went awry and State's LB Jamie Jones recovered at the 11-yard line. Three snaps into the last quarter Brauchle chipped a 25-yard field goal through.

Down 38 points, the Tigers kept clawing and were able to mount their best and only drive of the day, going 72 yards in ten plays. Twice Rutland converted on third downs by running it himself, and on first down at the MSU 16 Terrance Davis turned a handoff into a touchdown scamper at 8:27.

Fittingly it was the Dog defense that provided the final fireworks. With a pair of penalties digging them deep the Tigers had to throw. Sub-CB Corey Broomfield played deep in case of an overthrow and Rutland obliged. The redshirt freshman made his pick at the 43 and wove his way through traffic to and over the goal line untouched at 3:34. State's 45 points was the best output since the 2002 season, and the return touchdown provided the first defensive score since 2007.

Jackson State mustered only 194 net yards and the biggest chunk of that came on a single drive. Rutland, the former MSU quarterback who transferred after 2007, did his best on his former homefield with 46 rushing yards and 132 more throwing on 8-of-19 accuracy with the pair of picks. By contrast State's Relf gained 82 rushing hards on two fewer totes. He only threw ten times but was good on seven for 75 yards and the three touchdowns. Lee, who sat out the second half with shoulder spasms, was 8-of-13 for 82 yards. Neither had a throwing turnover.

Elliot, in his first action since last September 27 at LSU, had 60 yards on ten carries as State ground out 202 yards. The Dog offense averaged 5.4 yards per-snap. And juco transfer punter Hutchins averaged 49.0 yards on his pair of kicks.

This was State's first successful lidlifter since the 2005 season.

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