November 28, 2010 1:24:00 AM
"We have to expect to make the plays and to expect to win those games. With a young team we''re trying to build, there are times when they are looking around and it is time to make a play. Oh, I am the one that is going to do it, instead of it is time to make to a play, that''s me coach, give me the ball. We will develop that kind of attitude and swagger, hopefully, in the very near future."
-- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen after a 17-14 loss to Auburn
OXFORD -- A beaming Dan Mullen told the story Saturday night.
As the Mississippi State football coach fiddled with the game ball given to him by school president Mark Keenum, the smile on his face told the story of another victory against the University of the Mississippi in the Egg Bowl.
This one -- a 31-23 win before a crowd of 58,625 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium -- spoke to how much the Bulldogs have matured from puppies into Bulldogs that pack a bite.
On this night, redshirt freshman LaDarius Perkins was a one-man wrecking crew, sprinting for 319 all-purpose yards. The total, which included two touchdown passes from Chris Relf, is the second-highest single-game mark in school history.
That total is even more impressive when you consider Perkins rushed for 7 yards and had 6 receiving yards last week in a 38-31 double overtime loss to Arkansas at Davis Wade Stadium.
"Coach Mullen says big-time players step up in big-time games, so I just tried to help my team win this rivalry game," Perkins said. "I just have to be patient. I know my time will come when it is my time to make plays."
MSU had Bulldogs making plays all over the field. From Corey Broomfield, who made the final tackle of the game to snuff out a valiant Ole Miss rally, to quarterback Chris Relf, who had three touchdown passes and a career-high 288 yards. Relf also had a 71-yard run and a 71-yard pass to Perkins, who had three catches for 140 yards.
The Bulldogs did their damage without much from sophomore wide receiver Chad Bumphis, who had only one catch for 44 yards and suffered a bruised collarbone.
Earlier in the season, a lack of production from the team leader in all-purpose yards (998 entering the game) would have spelled doom for a maturing MSU team.
But the potential that dazzled everyone in a 49-7 victory against the University of Memphis has grown as the season as progressed. On Saturday, the confidence gained from a victory at the University of Florida and close losses to Auburn and Arkansas came through even more impressively.
As a result, a season that started with a flurry of potential and a could-have-been moment delivered a penultimate moment Saturday night that was just as satisfying as a program-building win against the team from the north that ended the 2009 season.
"We made a few big plays this season, but this game we made a lot of big plays," Perkins said. "It just shows we have a lot of explosive players on our team and we have the guys who can make big plays. You just have to look for us coming up. It shows we can be just as explosive as anybody in the country."
The Bulldogs will get a chance to punctuate their maturation late next month in a bowl game, most likely in Atlanta at the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Mullen couldn''t help but smile at the end of his press conference when he said the program''s goal remains to play for a SEC Championship. This year, he joked, the Bulldogs will realize that goal, albeit a few weeks later than originally intended.
That''s fine for now, though, because Mullen won''t mind seeing his smile reflecting off the Egg Bowl Trophy for another season.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.