By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
ATHENS, Ga. – Chris Relf says he’s not frustrated, but I have a hard time believing that. He’s got every right to feel out of sorts. Mississippi State’s senior quarterback is certainly no Heisman candidate – and that preseason chatter about him being a dark horse was silly – but he’s a guy who can run an offense and hurt defenses.
But Relf can’t do it himself. He’s trying, but it’s not working. That was evident during Saturday’s 24-10 loss at Georgia.
Relf’s got an offensive line that, because of injuries, has had four different starting lineups in five games. That’s led to a below-average running attack.
MSU’s receivers, who received much hype in the preseason – including from this corner – have been duds so far. Tight end Marcus Green hasn’t been as tough for defenses to handle as we thought he’d be.
Here’s a microcosm of Relf’s season to date: After a turnover gave MSU the ball at Georgia’s 28-yard line, Relf fired a pass toward Chris Smith, who had a little separation from his man. The ball slipped right through Smith’s fingers, and Georgia’s Sanders Commings made the interception at the 3-yard line.
UGA drove down and scored to go up 21-3.
Relf had his shares of bad throws, of course, but that’s not unusual. He’s never been a pure passer, and never will be. He’s serviceable, and given the stress put on him because of the offense’s engine failures, it’s not surprising he’d have bad plays, or bad days.
“There’s no frustration,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working. I always try to move on to the next play.”
After completing 7 of his first 8 passes, Relf finished 19 of 31 for 157 yards and two interceptions.
Relf was sacked four times, and he couldn’t get much going on the ground: 31 yards on 15 carries. A guy who rushed for 713 yards last season has just 61 over his last three games.
The mistakes that can be pinned on Relf can still be traced back to constant struggles in other areas of the offense. That leads to Relf trying too hard.
“I felt like I was trying to force a couple of things when we were down,” he said. “I was trying to force throws and get the ball out of my hand quicker when I should’ve just been patient and made the throw. It’s just a matter of me executing.”
Who’s to blame?
Relf isn’t about to assign blame to his teammates or coaches. It’s not his style, and it’s not the style of this MSU team. That’s good, because while fans (and yes, media) are quick to point fingers, the Bulldogs are not.
“And that’s a good thing with a team,” offensive lineman Quentin Saulsberry said, “when guys don’t point the finger at each other and say who’s doing this, who’s doing that, but when they’re pointing the finger back at themselves saying, I have to do something.”
We should give the offensive line a bit of a pass, by the way. Saulsberry was back at center Saturday, while James Carmon was at right guard for the first time ever. There’s a constant search for the right combination.
“It’s frustrating at times, but you have to adjust to it. It’s the SEC,” Saulsberry said.
Relf is doing his best to adjust, and to heed Saulsberry’s advice to “do something.”
But that will only go so far.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.