By Brad Locke / NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State’s receiving corps turned out to be an asset instead of a liability.
Without senior Leon Berry and top ball-catcher Chad Bumphis, it didn’t appear there would be many good options in the passing game for MSU. But in Saturday’s 52-14 Gator Bowl hammering of Michigan, quarterback Chris Relf had plenty of weapons.
Seven different players caught passes, and five of them were receivers. Redshirt freshman Ricco Sanders had his first career catch and then later his first career touchdown, a 15-yard grab in the second quarter.
Freshman Michael Carr also caught his first TD pass, a 31-yarder in the fourth to cap MSU’s scoring for the day.
Sanders finished with two catches for 23 yards, while Carr had three for a team-high 65.
“I was happy for both of them,” tailback Vick Ballard said. “They’re two guys that didn’t play that much this season, and for both of them to get touchdowns in a bowl game, that’s big.”
MSU has had time to deal with the loss of Berry, who dislocated his ankle in early October. But Bumphis broke his collarbone in the regular-season finale against Ole Miss.
The Tupelo sophomore was at all the bowl practices, often with his jersey and helmet on, and Carr thinks that helped the less experienced players.
“Chad, he was out, but he was more of a leader when he was out,” Carr said. “Big brother’s down, big brother picks you up still when you’re down.”
Big play, big block
• The big play of the game, as far as distance, was an 81-yard pass from Relf to tailback LaDarius Perkins, who caught the ball near the line of scrimmage and raced down to Michigan’s 7-yard line. The Bulldogs’ longest play of the season set up a touchdown that gave them a 45-14 lead.
The highlight of the play, though, was the block receiver Brandon Heavens laid on Michigan safety Ray Vinopal. It wiped out another defender and drew a loud reaction both in the stands and in the press box.
“When they told me it was Brandon, at first I didn’t believe them until I saw the replay,” Ballard said.
Heavens, a sophomore, is listed as 5-foot-10, 175 pounds.
“He’s pretty strong in the weightroom anyway,” Perkins said, “so I expect that from Heavens.”
Ballard sets mark
• Ballard, a junior college transfer, didn’t get to 1,000 yards for the season, finishing the year with 968. But he broke the school’s single-season rushing touchdown mark of 16, set in 1952 by Jackie Parker.
Ballard had three TD runs Saturday, giving him 19 on the season.
Ballard also owns the single-season total touchdown record with 20.
• After Michigan pulled ahead 14-10 late in the first quarter, MSU marched 77 yards in 10 plays, getting a fourth-down run from Ballard and 29 rushing yards by Perkins. Ballard’s 2-yard TD run gave State a 17-14 lead it would not relinquish.
• 33 – Rushing yards for Michigan after the first quarter. The Wolverines wound up with 88 yards rushing.
• “The 2010 football team left their legacy today on Mississippi State football. We’ll enjoy the win, and tomorrow the 2011 team will be born.” – MSU coach Dan Mullen
• This is MSU’s fourth consecutive bowl win. It’s now 8-6 all-time in bowl games. Michigan is 19-21. … Shannon’s Arceto Clark, one of the players struck by a virus earlier in the week, scored MSU’s first TD on a diving 4-yard grab in the first quarter. … Marvin Bure blocked a punt in the first quarter to set up Derek DePasquale’s 42-yard field goal, which gave State a 10-7 lead.