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Relf fighting through struggles

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE --┬áIt's back to drawing board for Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf. 

 

The film room might be the best place to dissect the troubles of the Bulldogs' senior leader. But if you listen to Relf describe the reason for his recent play, he may just need a mirror so he can see himself smile again. 

 

"You're going to go through ups and downs in this game, but I can't get down on myself," Relf said. "I have to have confidence in myself and the way I know I can play. That has to come from me, and (I have to) reflect it toward my team." 

 

MSU (2-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) hopes Relf will be able to find that confidence at 11 a.m. Saturday when it plays a pivotal SEC game at the University of Georgia (2-2, 1-1). 

 

"He has to still step up and be a leader of this team," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "That's an important role of playing quarterback. The team is always going to feed off you, so we need him to play at a high level, play with excitement, and always be ready to go." 

 

In a two-week span, Relf has gone from a candidate on the Davey O'Brien Award Watch List, the postseason award given to the nation's best quarterback, to a player who has completed a little more than half of his passes and has gained 30 rushing yards. 

 

Mullen even discussed the possibility of taking Relf out of game against Louisiana Tech last week, but he insisted his starting quarterback for every game the past two seasons gave MSU its best hope to move the ball. 

 

Mullen contradicted an ESPN.com report Saturday morning that said sophomore Tyler Russell was out with a knee injury against Louisiana Tech. Mullen said Monday that Russell, who wore a large brace on his left knee in pregame warmups, was physically able to play and will be active Saturday. 

 

Despite his struggles, Relf proved he still has the ability to make a big play when he hit LaDarius Perkins with a 17-yard touchdown pass to lift MSU to a 26-20 overtime victory against Louisiana Tech. 

 

"It was probably my best throw of the night and you know what, it won the game, so how could it not be," Relf said. 

 

Relf said this week he intended to go to junior Chris Smith as the outside receiver on that play, but he said he saw Perkins all by 

 

himself in the slot in a split second out of the corner of his eye. 

 

"You can't play him that way, so I went there with the ball," Relf said. "I just threw it up and he was able to make a big catch." 

 

MSU's fifth-year senior has shown he can find his rhythm in the high-tempo offense. He already ranks among the top 10 in MSU history in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passing efficiency, and touchdown passes. The Montgomery, Ala., native needs 11 completions and 239 yards to enter the school's top 10 in those categories. 

 

With 1,387 career rushing yards, Relf is the school's sixth quarterback to reach the 1,000-yard mark, and needs only 66 yards to enter the school's list of top 20 all-time rushers. 

 

"I think a lot of our guys work hard and want to their best," Mullen said. "They don't want to disappoint their teammates or coaches, and sometimes they maybe put a little too much pressure on themselves. They've got to have fun playing the game. When you get too worried about doing the wrong thing, you don't do the right things very well." 

 

Plays like the game-winner against Louisiana Tech have Georgia coach Mark Richt impressed with Relf and MSU's offense. Richt said this week Relf's 240-pound frame is nearly impossible for his scout team to simulate in practice. 

 

"Relf is a dual-threat quarterback, a guy who can run well and a guy who can throw well," Richt said. "He's an outstanding player and just really big, physical guy. We caught him last year just when he was getting going, and now he's really become a dangerous player." 

 

Last year, Relf had 257 yards against Georgia, including a team-high 109 rushing yards on 20 carries. He also threw for two touchdowns. 

 

"I think it's just a matter of all of us clicking at the right time between the receivers and quarterback," Relf said.

 

 

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