Relf, the senior quarterback, has had accuracy issues when throwing the ball deep. He’s not usually been off by much, and it’s often merely a timing issue between himself and the receivers.
“I think it’s just a matter of all of us clicking, the wide receivers and the quarterback,” Relf said. “Sometimes I might overthrow them a little bit, sometimes they might just drop the ball. It’s just a matter of them running the right routes and getting open and me hitting them.”
Relf has completed 58 of 100 passes, with only six completions (10.3 percent) covering 20 yards or more, and three of those came in the opener against woeful Memphis. Last season, 19.4 percent of Relf’s completions (25 of 129) were 20-plus yards.
He averaged 13.9 yards per completion in 2010, compared to 11.3 this season.
Not all big pass plays are created equal, especially in coach Dan Mullen’s offense. MSU has been adept at taking screens and swing passes and busting big plays. But it’s evident to everyone, from Mullen to Relf to offensive coordinator Les Koenning, that the downfield passing game is lacking.
“We’ve been just off the fingertips the last two weeks,” Mullen said. “Those issues can really start to compound one after the other, where you don’t get into a good rhythm on offense.
“For us, we like to play a little up-tempo aggressive pace and get after you, and when you’re kind of going forward and backward, forward and backward with guys making some mistakes and not executing cleanly, you get out of that rhythm, and you don’t put up the huge numbers that you’ll put up when you are in great rhythm.”
A matter of memory
There are some technical issues to address with Relf and his receivers, to be sure, but what coaches have been stressing to Relf is having a short memory. Put the last play behind and move forward.
“You have to execute the next play as its own independent entity,” said Mullen.
“I’ve just got to be confident,” Relf said. “You’re going to go through a struggle, you’re going to have ups and downs, and my point is, just me, I can’t get down on myself. I’ve just got to keep going out there and executing.”
Relf must be more precise Saturday when the Bulldogs (2-2, 0-2 SEC) travel to Georgia (2-2, 1-1).
UGA has one of the league’s toughest secondaries, led by cornerback Brandon Boykin and free safety Bacarri Rambo.
Boykin has seven career interceptions, including one this year, while Rambo has four picks in three games.
“I’ve just got to go out there and execute and go through my reads and my progressions and just hit the guys that are open,” Relf said.
The QB has something to build on: His 17-yard touchdown pass to LaDarius Perkins to beat Louisiana Tech in overtime last week. Relf was 14 of 29 on the night, but making that play was a result of doing exactly what coaches have stressed about putting bad plays behind.
The intended target on the play was receiver Chris Smith, but when Relf saw him covered, he looked to Perkins down the left side.
Relf made the throw while falling backward, with a defensive lineman bearing down on him.
It’s the kind of play that can bolster Relf’s confidence and lead to more big plays down the line. And that play justified the coaches’ confidence in Relf.
“If we didn’t have confidence in him, we wouldn’t have called the last play to win it,” Koenning said. “We have confidence he can get it done.”