Folk who are paid to project such things saw this battle of SEC Bulldogs as a toss-up and for three quarters that was exactly what the third-largest crowd ever at Davis Wade Stadium saw. In fact the 3,500 Georgia fans out of the 56,721 total had good reason to believe their team was going to avoid the first three-loss SEC start under the current regime. Because going into the final period Mississippi State was clinging to a 7-6 lead, that largely thanks to the guest Bulldogs having negated one first-half touchdown on a penalty and fumbling the ball away at MSU’s two-yard line.
But when State’s Sean Brauchle knocked a 44-yard field goal through to open the fourth quarter, it kicked his team into another gear. The Bulldogs stopped the ensuing Georgia series, aided by an offensive penalty that cancelled out a clutch third-down conversion; and took charge with consecutive touchdowns. Quarterback Chris Relf delivered the game-changer with his 33-yard strike to Arceto Clark for touchdown at 4:22. And after Georgia failed on fourth deep in their own turf, three State snaps and a one-yard dive by Vick Ballard meant the Bulldogs were on the SEC scoreboard.
They also ended a long stretch of futility against the other Bulldogs, scoring State’s first win over Georgia in ten meetings since 1974. This despite UG dominating the first half in every way but points, and finishing with 387 yards on 65 plays to 314 yards on 58 State snaps. However the visitors were often as much their own opponent as was State. Georgia lost both of their fumbles, including the crucial first-quarter drop after a pass play had them on the MSU one-yard line.
They were also assessed nine penalties compared to State’s four. Worse, so many of those flags came at disastrous times such as the called-back touchdown, the negated third-down conversion when in field goal range at least, and more. Yet there have been many a MSU game where the opponent made comparable gaffes and still won.
Not this time. Or, not this team. And if State made hay off Georgia mistakes, the Bulldogs also made some tough plays and a couple of gutsy calls happen. Relf's toss to Clark, set up by pure power running, was one; but that series had been sparked by a basic and bold call to go for it on 4th-and-1 still well inside MSU territory.
State won the toss and deferred as usual, but did change kickoff men. Derek DePasquale responded with his drive reaching the end zone. Georgia came out but was S Zach Smith made the stop at the 14-yard line. A second-down sack by DT Fletcher Cox had UG throwing on third down; Murray heaved it a little long so that even though CB Damein Anderson drew a flag by grabbing Kris Durham’s jersey the ball was called uncatchable. A 43-yard punt had State beginning on their 47-yard line.
It took just four plays for State to grab a SEC-game lead for the first time this season. Relf immediately looked long and found WR Chad Bumphis between the hashmarks for a 17-yard hookup; and on second down called his own number around left end for a 20-yard burst down to the UG 20. That end looked open again, so Relf drew support and pitched to Ballard. He went untouched into the end zone at 12:17.
A motivated DePasquale gave State its first touchback since 2008, so Georgia began this time from their twenty. It didn’t prove a big problem as they mixed things up nicely, producing first downs by run and pass alike. Murray converted 3rd-and-5 near midfield by hitting Durham, then later scrambled for 11 yards after DE Pernell McPhee missed a shot as sacking.
The 3rd-and-long at State’s 21 was delayed as the line judge took some sort of hit on the previous play. It didn’t bother Murray; he beat the blitz and had Parker Welch completely open down the middle. S Nickoe Whitley smacked him at the two-yard line and both ball and receiver’s helmet rolled into the end zone. State’s Whitley smartly went for the ball just in case.
Review showed both had come loose before Welch was down, giving State the possession. A 21-yard strike to Bumphis moved the chains once before the Bulldogs were stuffed on 3rd-and-3 just across midfield. Heath Hutchins’ punt was fair-caught at the 13.
This time Georgia was looking for big plays and got them, with a 18-yard throw to Durham and 12-yard run from King for a pair of first downs. On 3rd-and-Murray had the time he needed as tailback King went down the left side…behind CB Johnthan Banks who never looked for the ball. He did see it caught at the MSU 15, just before the quarters changed.
Two rushes lost a pair of yards, and on 3rd-and-12 the blitz made Murray unload a screen pass just a little early. State support had time to drag down Washaun Ealey two yards short of the mark. Georgia took the easy points with Blair Walsh booting the 25-yard field goal at 12:52.
State was three-and-out after the touchback, and a delay meant Hutchins had to try to kick it farther. He didn’t but that turned out just great for his team because Georgia’s Bacari Rambo, running the other way, did not know the ball was coming down. It hit him on the bounce and State’s Chris Cameron came up with the carom at Georgia’s 45-yard line.
The Bulldogs nearly gave it back, after an off-sides provided a free first down. Relf simply dropped the ball and WR Brandon Heavens had to fall on it back at the 38. Relf came back to hit Bumphis for a nice catch and better run getting first down at the 14-yard line. But State got a little too clever; the handoff to Perkins wasn’t clean in the first place, and his delayed throw-back to Relf was picked by Darryl Gamble at the ten-yard line. Relf picked up a personal foul on the tackle, too, so Georgia had it on their 26.
After LB K.J. Wright nearly picked a third-down pass Georgia punted, but State was off-sides on the kick for free first down on the 37-yard line with over six minutes left. Murray snuck through left guard for first down, then on 3rd-and-8 at the 50-stripe he pulled it down and ran—and jumped too—for ten yards and another move of chains. Georgia had to use a timeout at 2:27 on second down, and opted for the screen pass that had almost worked well earlier.
Durham made the easy catch, crossed left-to-right and behind good cover vaulted the right pylon for a touchdown…temporarily. Because Marlon Brown was caught holding near the goal line, meaning loss of six points, 15 yards, and first down back at the MSU 19. On 3rd-and-six CB Anderson kept inside position on Durham and broke up a beautiful corner throw. Georgia settled for a 35-yard field goal at 1:21. State settled for running out that remaining time and a 7-6 halftime lead.
Beginning the new period on their 20-yard line, Relf kept for six yards and one first down before trying to strike long. Ballard got turned-around and couldn’t come down with the open play, and on third down Relf’s lob was intercepted…and the pick negated as Georgia had jumped off-sides. Given another chance Relf rambled straight ahead for six yards and first down. He kept on an option for 14 more yards, with his forward fumble fortunately rolling out of bounds.
But the quarterback had to dive on a low snap for loss of a dozen, killing the drive and ending State’s string of scoring on the opening second-half series. Hutchins’ punt was caught at the 11-yard line.
Murray legged out a 3rd-and-2 and took a hit from S Emmanuel Gatling in the process. He came back with another ten-yard ramble to the 33, and found his tight end Charles for a dozen more. Linebacker Wright let another pass hit him square in the paws that would have reversed possession sooner, but on 3rd-and-9 Murray couldn’t thread a deep needle and Georgia punted into the end zone.
Relf instantly struck Clark for a fast 14 yards. A generous spot on 3rd-and-2 of Perkins’ dive netted another first down, then Bumphis hung on to a hot shot at the UG 44. With 3rd-and-6 Relf was low-and-away but WR Chris Smith made the lunging grab for first down at the 32. Relf ran for three as the quarter ran out.
Bumphis dragged his way open across the middle and if Relf had taken just a little mustard off the throw a major third-down play was there for making. Instead State chose to kick a 44-yarder and Brauchle hit is right through at 13:59 for a 10-6 lead.
Now real pressure was on the visiting sideline, and Georgia was up to the challenge. For a while. A fine kickoff return to the 46 even gave a jump-start, and on third-and-long State’s safety laid off the slot receiver and Brown made the catch and first down. Three snaps later with 3rd-and-8 again, Murray got time and hit Durham angling across. But once again Georgia self-destructed as McPhee was chop-blocked for loss of 15; and on top of that Zach Smith’s wicked tackle left Durham with a busted wing.
So it was 3rd-and-22 now, and under plenty pressure Murray missed. It would have been a 56-yard field goal so Georgia punted, leaving over ten minutes for something serious to happen.
It did…for State. They had to start from the seven-yard line and played it safe initially with Relf running for six and two yards. The first key conversion came as Relf drew attention on a roll-left before flipping the shovel pass to Ballard for 15 big yards. The real crunch came soon after when it was fourth down and a foot or so to go at 6:30
The punt team stayed put. State not only went for the play (and had to hurry as the play clock was apparently started early) but made a handoff. Ballard was given the responsibility and muscled between center and left guard for four yards and first down at the MSU 43. Ballard delivered again on second down with a bust through center and, as safety Rambo turned one way the tailback juked the other for a 21-yard break.
Sensing the UG defense was crowding the line, offensive coordinator Les Koenning called for a first-down strike. Relf had all the time needed to deliver and found Clark as he made his skinny cut from right hash to post. Clark had to battle with cornerback Branden Smith but won the rasslin’ match for the ball, turned and fell across the goal line at 4:22.
Trailing 17-6 Georgia had to air it out, but they hurt themselves with yet another penalty (delay of game) on third down and with 4th-and-9 Murray had to really run. Chased to the sideline by Wright and Chris Smith he unloaded and was low, giving State the ball at the 21-yard line. Relf ran for six, then 14 and barely missed scoring at the left pylon; and handed off to Ballard for the clincher touchdown at 3:15.
With the game won, the losing team managed to muster their only touchdown despite a illegal block on the return. The 90-yard series ate up all but 84 seconds, so State was not overly bothered as Murray put on a show with completions of 11, 21, 10, and 21 more yards. And then a 40-yard bomb into the end zone caught by King. The two-point scramble failed.
Redshirt freshman Murray was outstanding, completing 18 of 31 passes for 274 yards and the one score. He was sacked just once, didn’t throw to the wrong team—save for the two chances Wright couldn’t handle—and more impressively ran for 32 yards. But Ealey’s 36 rushing yards were most on the roster showing the ground-game troubles Georgia had. Eight Georgians caught at least one Murray pass.
Relf was actually more efficient though, 8-of-13 for 135 yards and the touchdown. He was neither sacked nor picked and put 97 rushing yards in the books on 21 totes. Ballard added two more scores to his season total and 77 yards on 14 rushes. Bumphis led in catches with four for 64 yards and Clark had a pair of receptions for 47 yards and the key touchdown.
And while State still sputtered in the return game, kickoffs were the best of Mullen’s tenure and Hutchins’ 35.0 punting average belied his placement and hang-time. And as noted, his poorest kick turned into one of Georgia’s many mistakes that contributed to the Bulldogs scoring their first SEC success of 2010.