STARKVILLE — Coaches always say they take one game at a time, but the clock in Mississippi State’s locker room tells a different story.
That timepiece had been counting down to the Egg Bowl matchup against No. 20 Mississippi since first-year coach Dan Mullen took over last winter, and when it hit zero the Bulldogs put on quite the show.
Anthony Dixon rushed for 133 yards and set the school single-season rushing mark, Chris Relf rushed for 131 yards and accounted for three touchdowns and the Bulldogs manhandled the Rebels 41-27 on Saturday.
“This program is on the rise,” Mullen said, “maybe to the contrary of what some others are saying around the state.”
It was the most points scored by the Bulldogs (5-7, 3-5 SEC) in the 106-year-old series since a 41-14 victory in 1917, and the most Ole Miss (8-4, 4-4) has given up this season.
The Egg Bowl was supposed to be a victory lap for the Rebels, who appeared on their way to their second straight nine-win season for the first time since 1961-62, second place in the SEC West and a balmy bowl appearance somewhere in central Florida.
Dixon and Relf had other plans, pushing Mississippi State to more than four wins for just the second time since 2000 by accounting for 64 percent of the offense. The Bulldogs treated the regular-season finale like a bowl and made the home team winners for the 10th time in 11 games.
“In a rivalry game like this, for those 3 hours you’ve got to want it,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
And it was clear in the second half once Relf and Dixon got rolling that Mississippi State wanted it more.
Relf has been Tyson Lee’s backup and shared playing time all season, but was often given the short hook after mistakes. This time he played most of the second half and dominated Ole Miss with 131 yards rushing, averaging 10 yards per carry on his first 10 and 8.7 overall.
The run specialist also stung the Rebels with touchdown passes of 2 and 34 yards, rallying the Bulldogs from a 13-10 halftime deficit.
The second scoring pass — a 34-yard lob to Chad Bumphis, who broke three tackles on the play — came on fourth and 9. He also mined the edge of the Ole Miss defensive front on the option for several big runs, clinching the game with a 10-yard power rush with 10:56 left.
“Chris got it rolling and got a feel for what was going on and we were able to run the football,” Mullen said. “I think they had 11 guys on the line of scrimmage and we were able to run the football.”
Mississippi State’s defense set the tone early, stopping Ole Miss short of the goal-line and forcing two field goals in the first half. The young Bulldogs secondary finished off the job in the second half when Corey Broomfield returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown and Charles Mitchell picked off his second pass of the game.
The Rebels’ only success came on long pass plays for touchdowns — 20 yards to Shay Hodge, who became the first receiver at Ole Miss with 1,000 yards in a season (1,023), 48 yards to Markeith Summers and 52 yards to Dexter McCluster.
The Bulldogs mostly held McCluster in check, allowing just 82 yards rushing to snap a four-game streak of 100-plus against SEC opponents. And though Jevan Snead finished with 275 yards passing, the three interceptions were costly.
The Bulldogs carried the golden egg-shaped trophy given to the winner to the end zone and celebrated with fans after the victory, dancing as a group to “Who Let the Dogs Out.”
Ole Miss, on the other hand, got out of Starkville as quickly as possible. The buses pulled away from the stadium a half hour after Mullen saluted the crowd over the public address system.
“It is a sick feeling,” Nutt said. “It is not what we planned.”
Dixon finished the season with 1,391 yards in 11 games, eight more than James Johnson’s 1998 record set over 13 games, and now owns every significant rushing record at Mississippi State.
His dive to catch the pylon for a 2-yard score got the Bulldogs offense rolling and set the tone for a running game that couldn’t be stopped. Mississippi State had 317 of its 412 total yards on the ground.
“I had a lot of fun,” Dixon said. “We beat our rival. I knew a bunch of them dudes on the other side. We were talking back and forth the whole game.”
Read all about the game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
Chris Talbott/The Associated Press