Future is bright for Bulldogs Mississippi State hopes to capitalize on big bowl win

Published 12:06 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mississippi State defensive end Pernell McPhee hadn’t even completed his victory lap with the Gator Bowl trophy when talk turned to the future.

And after Saturday’s 52-14 pulverization of Michigan, the future couldn’t be any brighter for the Mississippi State program. The Bulldogs dominated the Wolverines (7-6) in all phases of the game, outrushing them 204-88 and scoring on their first five drives while punting only twice.

The blowout put an exclamation mark on a 9-4 finish that has them wanting even more.

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I think this is the foundation of a great many wins to come,” Mullen said. “For the future, you want to win your last game. It leaves a great taste in your mouth into that offseason. We went from average to good, but we now want the ability to go from good to great.”

Key to that bright future is the return of game MVP and rising senior quarterback Chris Relf, who went from splitting time with understudy Tyler Russell to becoming a polished decision-maker in Mullen’s spread offense.

Relf completed 18 of 23 passes for 281 yards and three TDs and rushed for another score in the win.

The weapons around Relf return. Top wideout Chad Bumphis, who didn’t play in the Gator Bowl due to injury, returns with the rest of the receiving corps, which played well in his absence. The Bulldogs have made wide receiver a key position in this year’s recruiting and they look to bring in a few big, tall pass catchers to go along with small speedsters like Bumphis and Arceto Clark. At running back, the Bulldogs bring back junior college transfer Vick Ballard, who fell just 32 yards short of a 1,000-yard season and broke the school’s rushing touchdown (19) and total TD (20) records. He scored three touchdowns and rushed 20 times for 76 yards vs. Michigan.

Speedster LaDarius Perkins, who was a huge sparkplug in the return game and as a change-of-pace back, will also be back next season. He turned a dumpoff pass out of the backfield into a back-breaking 81-yard play that set up Ballard’s second TD of the day.

On the offensive line, Mississippi State will have to find replacements for center J.C. Brignone and All-SEC left tackle Derek Sherrod, who was a three-year starter.

Defensively, the Bulldogs will have to replace the heart and soul of one of the SEC’s best units. The linebacking corps of Conerly Trophy winner Chris White, K.J. Wright and Emmanuel Gatling will have to be rebuilt, as all three graduate. The Bulldogs also lose their best pass rusher on the line, McPhee, and cornerback Maurice Langston.

However, help is on the way as the Bulldogs look to have one of their best recruiting classes. Ocean Springs wideout Joe Morrow, who played in this year’s Red Carpet Bowl, and receiver Nikolas Brassell of South Panola have already commited to State. Mullen feels that a win will help push the Bulldogs over the top as this year’s recruiting winds down and the staff begins working on the 2012 signing class.

“We’re going to find out in a little more than a month how it affects recruiting in the state,” Mullen said, in reference to National Signing Day. “All these great players in our state got to see us bring a huge crowd to a New Year’s Day bowl game in the state of Florida, go out there and play Michigan and win a championship.”