November 21, 2010 1:36:00 AM
After three scores of 45 yards or more against Alabama, Mississippi State''s defense entered Saturday''s game against Arkansas looking to avoid giving up big plays.
The Razorbacks, armed with the Southeastern Conference''s top passing offense, did just that against the Bulldogs, scoring on plays of 25, 62 and 89 yards.
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett claimed the 89-yard touchdown to Jarius Wright and had additional passing plays of 21, 22 and 32 yards. The play to Wright - which came on a one-play drive -- was eerily familiar to MSU''s struggles at Alabama when all three long scoring plays were single-play drives.
"We knew coming in that their offense was gonna put up points," MSU defensive end Pernell McPhee said. "Our focus was to try and hold them to less yards than our offense got. Try to keep them running plays after plays and not give up big strikes. In the fourth quarter they started hitting some big home runs."
McPhee said the team''s second-straight week of giving up big plays was a result of missed tackles and players not running to the football.
MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the problem against Arkansas was deeper, instead pointing the finger at himself and the team''s defensive coaches.
He used Ryan Mallett''s winning touchdown pass to Knile Davis in overtime as an example. Davis appeared to run free from the backfield and slip past coverage for the 7-yard score.
Diaz said the Bulldogs blitzed on that play and that a player was supposed to peel and follow Davis on the play.
"I think that will be the most frustrating thing about tonight," Diaz said. "Tonight we had some missed assignments. We gifted them too many points. A missed assignment comes back on coaching. That is a really good offensive football team. Our kids played way to well to give them the touchdowns we gave them.
"I gotta do a better job getting our guys to their assignments.
MSU''s defense managed to force three turnovers -- two fumbles and one interception -- though conceding big plays will be the unit''s lasting memory of Senior Night.
MSU passing game comes alive
For much of the 2010 season, Mississippi State has relied on its running game to carry its offense.
Saturday, the Bulldogs turned to the air early and found success in the form of 21 first-half points.
Quarterback Chris Relf battled through five sacks and 31 carries in an explosive offensive performance from the Bulldogs
Before Saturday''s game, Relf''s career-high in completions came against Auburn, when he was 12-of-26.
Relf finished 20 of 30 for a career-high 224 yards, leading the Bulldogs back from a 10-point deficit to force overtime.
The junior, who leads MSU in carries, experienced a shaky second half, especially when the Bulldogs took the air following Arkansas'' 89-yard touchdown pass by Ryan Mallett, which gave the Razorbacks a 24-21 lead.
Arkansas'' go-ahead score came one play after Relf completed a fourth-down pass and fumbled the ensuing carry deep in Arkansas territory.
Relf was then sacked on back-to-back plays, forcing MSU to punt.
But in the fourth quarter when MSU trailed 31-21, Relf led MSU on a 14-play 75-yard touchdown drive. He completed three passes on that drive and perfectly executed the two-minute drill to set up Derek DePasquale''s 25-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
To wide receiver Chad Bumphis, Relf''s day in the passing game wasn''t a surprise.
"Chris has been throwing well," Bumphis said. "The way he practices, you don''t expect anything less. Most people don''t see what we see, so it''s a surprise to most people. But that''s what we see everyday."
Chris Smith steps up
Heading into Saturday''s game, MSU sophomore wide receiver Chris Smith was the third option behind Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens.
Fellow sophomore Arceto Clark had more catches and touchdowns than Smith had entering the game, but through just one half Smith turned in a career-best performance for the Bulldogs.
Smith had five catches for 78 yards in the game, helping provide the offensive balance MSU coaches have been searching for since the beginning of the season.
Smith had four of his five first-half catches on MSU''s three scoring drives.
Before Saturday, Smith had just 11 catches for 99 yards.
"It''s just a matter of time before he had a breakout game," Bumphis said.
joe commented at 11/21/2010 8:03:00 AM:
What was the score?
1. Season opener at Columbus Speedway a success LOCAL SPORTS
2. Tennessee routs No. 3 Mississippi State COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Tennessee's win against MSU flips script LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Starkville Academy boys fall in state title game HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS