September 27, 2010 9:49:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- A day after Mississippi State''s galvanizing win over Georgia, head coach Dan Mullen has plenty to build upon.
Dangerously close to starting conference play with three losses, MSU scored 17 fourth-quarter points to top UGA and even its season record.
The reasons for State''s win, especially those lacking in its previous two losses, give Mullen and his staff a ton of confidence heading into the second third of the season, where three of State''s next four games are non-conference matches.
"We can gameplan with more confidence, and for a young team that''s important," Mullen said during his teleconference Sunday. "There''s a lot of things we can still improve on as a team. It''s stuff that they can see to improve on, but the attitude in the belief in making plays is huge."
The game-defining moment of Saturday''s win was State''s 10-play, 93-yard scoring drive that ended with Chris Relf finding Arceto Clark for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
The drive included a gutsy, fourth-and-1 decision to run for the first and Relf''s precision passes to convert a trio of third downs.
Mullen hailed the drive, which gave State a 17-6 lead late in the fourth, as "the best drive we''ve had since I''ve been the coach here."
"That was a huge drive for us," Mullen said. "You''re in a 10-6 game. I walked in the huddle and told the guys, ''This is a drive that can define you. The team, the players, the offense, you need to go win this game right now.''"
As a result of the drive, Mullen had evidence starting quarterback Chris Relf could handle the pressure of directing the offense for an entire game. Relf also showed he could handle the physical toll by carrying the ball a career-high 21 times.
"I think that was Chris'' best game he''s had," Mullen said. "At the quarterback position, you''re the manager of the team. He made some mistakes and we''re fortunate some didn''t cost us. But that''s a learning experience, he''s still a young player.
"Hopefully that will give him some confidence going forward and give him some things to really look at for his game and how to improve as a manager of the offense."
Relf''s response to his limited number of mistakes, which included three fumbles, impressed Mullen but didn''t do enough to abandon plans to get redshirt freshman Tyler Russell reps down the road.
However, Mullen said he doesn''t have a set plan on when he wants to bring in Russell or how much time he''ll play in each game. He described Relf as "being in a flow" against UGA, and the quarterback rotation formula could just depend on how well he''s playing.
Assuming a greater role during preparation helps Relf''s growth, Mullen said.
"At the end of the week, maybe not hitting on all cylinders, but his demeanor and leadership on the field was encouraging," Mullen said. "He was being a little bit more of a vocal leader out there on the field."
State played Saturday''s game without tight ends Brandon Henderson and Marcus Green, whose playing time for the Alcorn State game remains unclear.
MSU''s top two tight ends picked up knee injuries in back-to-back weeks and missed Saturday''s game because both still had swelling, Mullen said.
"They''ve been running at practice, but we''ll re-evaluate today and again this week," Mullen said. "That''s tough for that position. We just got to see how they''re progressing this week. Hopefully, this is the week we''ll get them back."
The Bulldogs also watched defensive tackle Fletcher Cox limp to the locker room after a cut block from a Georgia lineman.
Cox left the field favoring his left foot.
Mullen didn''t comment specifically on Cox''s injury but said the sophomore was scheduled to be evaluated by training personnel on Sunday.
Vick Ballard''s first-quarter 13-yard touchdown run was officially changed to a complete pass, a team spokesman announced Sunday.
The touchdown pass gave Relf two for the game and changed his passing line to 9 of 14 for 148 yards.
Also, a team fumble that was credited to Relf was corrected and added 12 yards to the quarterback''s rushing total (109).
With the change, Relf is the first Bulldog to rush and pass for 100 yards in a game since Wayne Madkin did it against BYU in 2000.