November 29, 2009 12:24:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Gashed. Shredded. Trampled.
Any of those words -- and probably a few more would describe the feeling of the University of Mississippi football team defense Saturday after a 41-27 loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl at David Wade Stadium.
Led by sophomore quarterback Chris Relf and senior running back Anthony Dixon, the Bulldogs (5-7, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) rushed for 317 yards against the Rebels (8-4, 4-4), who entered the game as the SEC''s fourth-best team against the run (124.3 yards per game).
Ole Miss had allowed more than 100 yards rushing in a game six times this season, including two for more than 200 yards (Alabama and Alabama-Birmingham), but coach Houston Nutt didn''t envision anything like what he saw Saturday.
"It is a sick feeling," Nutt said. "That is not what we had planned for these guys. You have to give them credit. They did a good job today. We didn''t do a good job stopping the run, and we can''t turn the ball over."
Relf, who split time with senior Tyson Lee in the first half, went the distance in the second half and finished with a career-high 131 yards.
Dixon, playing in his final game as a Bulldog, added 133 yards. The effort helped him end the season with 1,391 yards, which eclipsed the previous school record held by James Johnson (1,383, 1998).
The Bulldogs had so much success because Relf''s athleticism in the option and his ability to read the defense and pick his spots kept the Rebels on their heels.
Nutt and defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said they were both surprised the Bulldogs had so much success with the option.
"(Relf and Dixon) were the guys that made the difference right there," Nutt said. "The big man running the ball was load, No. 14, and we all knew about Dixon.
"It caused us some problems. We didn''t think it would, but they kept the ball and the clock. You have Dixon back there, as well, and that is a good one-two punch. I really thought after the first half that they threw their best shot at us. I really thought we would control the game. I thought it would be over."
Said Nix, "We worked on the option and we prepared for it and we didn''t do a good job of defending it today."
Nix said all 11 players on the field didn''t play their responsibilities, didn''t tackle well, and didn''t do the little things. He said that happens, but it was frustrating not to play well when they had prepared for the option.
Nix admitted the use of Relf and Dixon in the backfield changed the Rebels'' defensive scheme. He said Relf-Dixon combination forced the Ole Miss cornerbacks to make more plays.
"It boiled down to tackling and assignments," Nix said. "They outexecuted us today."
Junior defensive end Kentrell Lockett said the Rebels were overaggressive to handle the dive running play and to contain Relf and Dixon.
"We were biting too much on the fakes," Lockett said. "We were trying to do what we were supposed to do, but the fakes were so good and so pretty that we were biting on them and they were taking advantage of them."
Lockett said the Rebels tried as much in practice to simulate the option game all week. He said he thought the Rebels were prepared but wound up biting too much instead of "sitting and squeezing" like they were supposed to.
"We were trying to do more than we were supposed to because the dive wasn''t our responsibility," Lockett said. "It got to the point that we were taking dive so much that coach Nix had to change our scheme because we were biting so much on it."
Rushing for more than 300 yards against Ole Miss isn''t new. The Bulldogs rushed for 304 yards in a 35-14 victory in 2005 in Starkville.
Saturday''s rushing total, which was 13 yards shy of breaking the single-game high of 329 set Nov. 21 against Arkansas, helped MSU score the most points in a game this season against Ole Miss.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.