GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After a pair of 100-yard games against non-SEC teams, Vick Ballard showed he could get it done when it counted most.
In MSU’s 10-7 win over Florida, the junior tailback rushed for a tough 98 yards on a career-high 20 carries Saturday. He didn’t score a touchdown, which is unusual – he’s tied for the national lead with 12 scores – but he punished Florida’s defense and helped State establish the tempo it wanted.
“I do think Vick ran the ball very hard,” coach Dan Mullen said. “He’s a physical runner, we know that’s what he is. He didn’t break any big runs. For us to continue to win down the road – we only had 245 yards of offense, that’s not a huge night – we need to make some bigger plays.”
A bunch of medium plays did just fine.
As MSU clung to a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter, Ballard carried the ball six straight times – three times out of the Wildcat formation, the first time he’s done that – for 38 yards. The drive stalled at MSU’s 48-yard line, but nearly 6 minutes came off the clock.
“Give a lot of credit to him,” center Quentin Saulsberry said, “because he put the team on his back.”
MSU rushed for 212 yards on 49 carries, with quarterback Chris Relf gaining 82 on 22 totes. Of MSU’s 35 final plays, 34 were runs.
“We felt we could keep running it, keep running it,” Mullen said.
Hutchins’ big kick
n Senior punter Heath Hutchins has had a solid year, but his biggest kick to date happened at just the right time.
After MSU’s drive stalled at its own 48 midway through the fourth quarter, the Saltillo native hit a 48-yard punt that was downed at the 4 with 2:00 left. Florida got within field goal range but missed a 42-yarder.
“At the key moment of the game, he came up big,” Mullen said. “And that’s what players do, that competitive excellence. When their number’s called at the critical moment of the game, they step up and make their biggest play.”
Hutchins averaged 43.3 yards on six punts with a long of 50.
n The last one. Starting at its own 4, Florida covered 71 yards in 14 plays, but MSU got a big third-down stop, and Chas Henry missed a 42-yard field goal with 4 seconds left.
n Plus-2 – Florida committed two turnovers, while MSU committed none.
n “I keep telling our players, these are the types of games we need to make plays. And at the end, we made the plays we needed to make at the end.” – MSU head coach Dan Mullen
n It’s homecoming for MSU, with UAB of Conference USA coming to Davis Wade Stadium. The teams last met in 2007, with State winning 30-13 in Starkville.
n MSU is 5-2 for the first time since 2000, when it started 7-2. … Relf was 4 of 9 passing for 33 yards, with Chad Bumphis making one catch for 30 yards. … Not only did Mullen use to work at Florida, but so did offensive line coach John Hevesy and strength coach Matt Balis. And defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is a Florida native. … MSU was 6 of 14 on third downs, while UF was 6 of 16. … Florida kick return Andre Debose sprained his ankle in the first half and didn’t return, which helped MSU hold the Gators to 63 yards on three kickoff returns.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
BRAD LOCKE / NEMS Daily Journal