By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Thumbs up, down
– Thumbs up: Thumbs up all around for this one. The offense gained 252 of its 412 total yards after halftime, controlling the clock with the running of quarterback Chris Relf and tailback Anthony Dixon. Those two combined for 264 of State’s 317 rushing yards.
Defensively, the Bulldogs cooled off Dexter McCluster, who’d been running wild the past month, and picked off quarterback Jevan Snead three times. MSU dominated the time of possession battle, 37:02 to 22:58.
– Thumbs down: Hard to find any. Third down conversions: MSU was 9 of 13. Punting: Heath Hutchins’ lone kick traveled 48 yards. Passing: Relf and Tyson Lee were a combined 8 of 14 for 95 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
No, it’s tough to find anything wrong with upsetting Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, although defensive coordinator Carl Torbush bemoaned giving up too many long plays.
Keys to victory
– Reviewing the three keys to victory in Saturday’s GameDay edition:
Contain McCluster: The speedy running back came in averaging 184.8 rushing yards over his last four SEC games. He was held to 82 yards, and he didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter, on a 52-yard pass.
The Rebels had few other viable offensive options, with Snead-to-Shay Hodge about the only other thing that worked. But Snead kept throwing interceptions.
Hold that line: In the 2008 game, a 45-0 Ole Miss win, MSU quarterbacks were sacked 11 times, and State had only 37 yards of offense. This time, the Rebels only managed two sacks, and the Bulldogs’ run game picked up steam in the second half as the Ole Miss defensive front seemed to wear down.
Run, run, run: Again, the run game found its footing after halftime. Dixon had just 17 yards at halftime, then gained 60 in the third quarter. He (again) ran into the MSU record books, too, breaking J.J. Johnson’s single-season rushing record.
Dixon finished the year with 1,391 yards, and he finished his career with a school-record 3,994 yards.
–Relf and Dixon:Relf has at times been a nice complement to Dixon and a change of pace from platoon partner Lee. This was his best game by far, and that amplified what was another typical Dixon outing. It was Dixon’s eighth 100-yard game of the season.
– While the Bulldogs aren’t going bowling, this win served as big-time payoff for a team that played the nation’s toughest schedule and had some close calls against ranked teams. Last offseason was marked by change; this one will be marked by promise and hope.