October 25, 2010 12:27:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- After narrowly avoiding an upset loss to Alabama-Birmingham, Dan Mullen and the Mississippi State Bulldogs are still looking to improve their passing game.
No. 23 MSU has averaged just 88.7 points per game over the last three games, but the team''s reliance on the run has helped fuel a current five-game winning streak.
Saturday, the Bulldogs eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark for the fourth straight game, but took shots down the field it hadn''t done in recent weeks.
The vertical passing game had mixed results, as Brandon Heavens had a 40-yard reception. Leading receiver Chad Bumphis didn''t record a catch, though he had 30 yards rushing.
Several of Relf''s deep throws were to off-target, especially to wideout Arceto Clark over the middle, but not by much. Mullen said he was pleased with Relf''s vertical passes, stressing his struggles -- Relf was just 8 of 19 Saturday -- were in the short-to-intermediate range.
"It''s just getting his feet set and getting him in a rhythm on the underneath throws. That''s gonna be the key this week," Mullen said Sunday during his weekly teleconference. "(Offensive coordinator) Les (Koenning) does a good job working with him, and we''ll work on that today in practice. Today''s a great practice for the quarterbacks and receivers to get some things cleaned up."
MSU''s passing game, which ranks 99th in the country with 171.25 yards per game, shouldn''t all hinge on Relf''s performance as its receivers had missed assignments, Mullen said.
Additionally, the Bulldogs were without starters in guard Tobias Smith and running back Vick Ballard against the Blazers.
"The consistency -- it''s the quarterback''s job to manage -- and he did some great things and made some big-time throws in that game. And our receivers, we had some big mistakes with some receivers. And between him and the receivers, we got to get that stuff cleaned up. It''s great we can teach, and we won game. There''s going to be smiles in the meeting room because we won the game, but also some relief that we''ve won the game because of the mistakes that were made.
Relf rushed for 51 yards on 20 carries -- his lowest output since rushing for minus-two yards against Alcorn State on Oct. 2 -- but Mullen was pleased with Relf''s zero-turnover performance.
"The consistency -- its the quarterback''s job to manage -- and he did some great things and made some big-time throws in that game," Mullen added. "And our receivers, we had some big mistakes with some receivers. And between him and the receivers, we got to get that stuff cleaned up. It''s great we can teach, and we won game. There''s going to be smiles in the meeting room because we won the game, but also some relief that we''ve won the game because of the mistakes that were made."
Newness of ranking gone
Dan Mullen didn''t have tangible proof his players were being lauded for guiding the team to its first ranking in nine years, but it was a no-brainer considering the achievement.
Combating overconfidence wasn''t an issue for Mullen, who said his players had a solid week of practice. That''s not to say the plaudits from family, friends and students didn''t distract the players.
Mullen was relieved to overcome occasionally sloppy play, which included 11 penalties, with a Homecoming win over UAB.
"When you get that attention for the first time, you can lose a little bit of focus and lose a little bit of what got you there," Mullen said. "Now that we have that one over with, we''re bowl eligible now and we can concentrate on being a better football team.
"It was great to get through that game with a win, because now that''s all behind us. We''ve been ranked before, that''s old hat now."
MSU''s offense entered Saturday''s game down five offensive starters.
Dan Mullen is hopeful to have most of them back for next week''s home clash against Kentucky.
Running back Vick Ballard, who rolled an ankle at Florida on Oct. 16, was rested for MSU''s win over UAB.
Center J.C. Brignone played the second half of Saturday''s game after the team barley cleared 100 yards of offense in the first two quarters.
Mullen is confident both players will be at full strength against the Wildcats.
"We''re just a banged up football team," Mullen said. "We''ve played eight consecutive weeks. Played a lot of tough teams in those eight weeks in physical games. Vick Ballard, they said after the game he should be ready to go for Tuesday''s practice at full speed. Tobias Smith should be full-speed and ready to go. J.C. Brignone told me after the game nothing re-tweaked or aggravated him after the game so hopefully he''s gonna be healthy for this week of practice."