OXFORD – Ole Miss had a year to come up with a plan to stop Chris Relf … and, well, the Rebels need to keep working on that.
The Mississippi State quarterback beat Ole Miss with his legs last year. In the 2010 Battle for the Golden Egg, Relf had his SEC career-high with three touchdown passes, all in the first half.
That was more than enough to back an MSU defense that smothered the Rebels at every turn through the first three quarters, and the Bulldogs defeated Ole Miss 31-23 before a Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 58,625 Saturday night.
The second-straight rivalry game win for MSU coach Dan Mullen likely solidifies a Chick-FIl-A Bowl berth for the Bulldogs (8-4). State has now won back-to-back games in the series for the first time since 1998-1999.
Mullen was glad to get the trophy again.
“We have a real nice trophy case for it, and we’re going to put it back where it belongs,” he said.
A disappointing season for Ole Miss ends at 4-8 overall, 1-7 in the SEC, the worst conference record for Rebels coach Houston Nutt in his 13 years in the league. His Ole Miss team had posted back-to-back nine wins seasons, each capped with a Cotton Bowl victory.
For Relf and the Bulldogs, it was a festival of big plays. Ole Miss began the night last in the SEC in pass defense efficiency, and MSU took advantage.
The Bulldogs had six plays of over 30 yards, two of over 70. Most were in the passing game.
Ole Miss kept the Bulldogs from pounding at the middle with tailback Vick Ballard, but had no answer for the speed of MSU’s LaDarius Perkins, who put up big numbers rushing and receiving.
“You saw the difference in speed, and it’s been that way all year,” Nutt said. “The thing I appreciated is that our guys kept fighting and never let go of the rope.”
Perkins carried 13 times for 98 yards and caught three passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
Relf was 13 for 20 passing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
“Chris missed a couple of shots early but then settled in and did a nice job of setting his feet and throwing the ball,” Mullen said.
The Rebels did a better job of limiting big plays in the second half and rallied from a 31-9 deficit to make it 31-23.
Ole Miss had the ball at its 11 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left and no timeouts. A pass completion to near midfield was wiped out by a chop block penalty against freshman lineman Patrick Junen, putting the Rebels in a hole too deep to overcome.
“From the looks in our guys’ eyes, we thought we were going to score,” Nutt said. “We were already talking about the two-point play.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs took away the Ole Miss run game that ranked second in the SEC, holding the Rebels to 65 yards on 35 attempts, 155 yards below their average.
Ole Miss scored on a 16-yard run by Jeff Scott on the first play after an MSU fumble for an early 6-0 lead. But the first half for Ole Miss included six punts and five series of three-plays-and-out.
In the second quarter alone, MSU had gains of 33, 36, 44 and 71 yards.
Relf had an SEC career-high three touchdown passes in the first half, setting up one with a 71-yard run.
At halftime, Relf had 249 yards of offense. Ole Miss had 140. MSU outgained Ole Miss 498-326. The Rebels had 124 yards and touchdown drives of 73 and 80 yards in the fourth quarter.
“I thought the absolute key of the game was stopping their run game,” MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “(Brandon) Bolden is as good a back as there is in the SEC. I don’t know if in our wildest of dreams we would have imagined shutting him down like we did in the first half.”
Bolden finished with 45 yards on 12 carries and a 10-yard touchdown run.
MSU blocked the PAT after Scott’s touchdown and went on to outscore Ole Miss 21-3 over the remainder of the half with Relf throwing scoring passes to Smith for 15 yards and to Perkins for 33 and 36 yards. The Bulldogs led 21-9 at the break.
Relf’s second TD pass to Perkins came after Scott lost 4 yards on a fourth-and-1 run near mid-field with less than 2 minutes left in the half.
A personal foul penalty against Ole Miss lineman Ted Laurent put the Bulldogs at the Ole Miss 36. Relf threw a screen pass to Perkins on the next play, and after two missed tackles he scored easily. The Rebels’ other points came on a 34-yard field goal by Bryson Rose.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600
Parrish Alford / NEMS Daily Journal