September 6, 2011 10:44:00 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State senior quarterback Chris Relf said he watched the film of his final drive last year against Auburn University again this summer.
Before Auburn became the nation''s darling team, had the consensus winner for the Heisman Trophy, and Tigers coach Gene Chizik held the crystal championship football months later, MSU had a final chance to beat them in Starkville.
After a pass interference penalty, Relf and the MSU offense stood 10 yards away from getting into their kicker''s range for a game-tying field goal at Davis Wade Stadium. Seconds later, MSU''s hopes for an upset win vanished after four straight incompletions, including a dropped first down pitch-and-catch with receiver Leon Berry.
"I just put that game behind me last year and ready to play this year''s Auburn team," Relf said. "I''m just itching to play, have a good practice today and go down there and execute."
Relf will get that chance when No. 20 MSU travels to Auburn, Ala., to take on No. 23 Auburn at 11:21 a.m. (WCBI).
Relf said in the preseason that the loss to Auburn motivated him in the summer training program and the throwing schedule he has had with his receivers.
"A year ago, we were going to try to keep things as simple for him to build his confidence," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "Right now I''m comfortable with him doing everything. Now there''s a lot more freedom to make a lot more in-game adjustments."
Chizik said the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Relf has transformed from a question mark into a reliable weapon.
"I think he is extremely poised and confident," Chizik said Sunday in his media teleconference. "You can see that when he throws the ball, see it in the run game. You can tell this is a different young man from when we played them last September."
Relf built on the momentum from his MVP performance against the University of Michigan in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011. In a season-opening 59-14 victory against the University of Memphis on Saturday, he was 13 of 22 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
In his past four games, Relf is 64 of 94 (68.1 percent) for 995 yards
with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He is only the third quarterback (joining Derick Tate and Dave Marler) in school history to have four straight games of at least 200 yards passing.
"You give players more when they understand more," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "He''s made us feel a lot more comfortable every week as coaches if he plays like he did last week."
Relf said Monday that while MSU set school records he wasn''t all smiles about the Bulldogs'' offensive execution, including six penalties for 30 yards.
"There''s a lot of work we have to do," Relf said. "We had a lot of mental mistakes with penalties. We just need to work hard to execute better Saturday."
Mullen said he was able to be harder on his players in practices after the Memphis game because they know the pressure has increased now that MSU is a six-point favorite against the defending national champion on the road in the Southeastern Conference.
"It''s great winning a game and having a lot of teaching moments because you can get after them harder after a win," Mullen said. "They''re still thinking in the back of their minds we won the game and if we can win the game and make mistakes and we improve those mistakes, look at how much better we can get."