Mississippi State wins Mullen’s coaching debut

Published 12:36 am Sunday, September 6, 2009

STARKVILLE (AP) — Turns out Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was right.

Mullen predicted little-used quarterback Chris Relf would have a significant impact on Mississippi State’s offense and, boy, did he ever. Relf passed for three touchdowns and ran for another, leading the Bulldogs to their most points since 2002 with a 45-7 win over Jackson State on Saturday in Mullen’s first game.

He wasn’t ready to turn the offense completely over to Relf, though, with a road trip to Auburn next week.

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‘‘I still see us as somewhat of a two-quarterback system, especially going on the road,’’ the first-year coach said. ‘‘We don’t want to put all that on one guy’s shoulders. We’ll let them both shoulder the load and between the two of them I think they can handle it.’’

Tyson Lee earned the start, but Relf ended up taking most of the snaps and scoring most of the points. He found Chad Bumphis on catch-and-run scores twice and made a nice touch pass to Marcus Green on a 19-yard score.

He completed 7-of-10 passes for 75 yards and rushed for 82 yards while holding down the Tim Tebow role in the former Florida offensive coordinator’s spread offense.

Lee was 8 of 13 for 82 yards and could have played more in the second half, but coaches decided to rest him with shoulder spasms.

Asked what grade he would give himself after the game, Relf said: ‘‘I’d give myself a 98.’’

Athletic director Greg Byrne hired Mullen to fill the seats with his offense and wasn’t disappointed in the 37-year-old’s debut. The third-largest crowd in school history (52,232) watched the Bulldogs score more points than they have since a 51-13 win over Jacksonville State on Sept. 4, 2002.

Mullen even opened with a little razzle-dazzle on an end-around pass by Bumphis that fell incomplete. The point got across, though.

‘‘I wanted our team knowing that we’re always going to be attacking and the first play of the game showed them that,’’ Mullen said.

It wasn’t exactly pretty, though, after the teams were deflated a bit with a half-hour lightning delay at the start.

The Bulldogs had 12 penalties for 101 yards, including one that scuttled a touchdown, and Christian Ducre fumbled twice and Sean Brauchle missed two short field goals.

And Mississippi State put up few dominant drives with 24 of their points coming after Tigers’ turnovers.

Jackson State rarely left its side of the field and Mississippi State allowed just 194 yards and nine first downs, forced five turnovers and harassed former teammate Tray Rutland all game. The senior, who transferred after his redshirt freshman season, completed 8-of-19 passes for 132 yards with two interceptions. The majority of his team’s offense came on two deep passes totaling 81 yards and its single scoring drive.

Terrence Davis scored Jackson State’s only points on a 16-yard run against Mississippi State’s second-team defense early in the fourth quarter.

‘‘The stuff they were throwing at us, we were prepared,’’ middle linebacker Jamar Chaney said. ‘‘We knew what was coming.’’

Bumphis opened scoring with a 15-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Relf following Jackson State punter Brad Bennett’s fumbled snap. Then Relf scored from 5 yards out with 48 seconds left in the first half to go up 14-0.

Charles Mitchell set up Robert Elliott’s 7-yard scoring run early in the third with an interception, then helped the Bulldogs to a 28-0 lead when he caused a fumble that was converted three plays later on Relf’s 19-yard pass to Green.

Relf also hit Bumphis on a 7-yard score late in the third quarter. Corey Broomfield locked it up with a 43-yard interception return.

Jackson State coach Rick Comegy had hoped the first game between teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Southeastern Conference would be a showcase for his Football Championship Subdivision team. But the game gave his team the kind of challenge he was looking for before returning to FCS competition the rest of the season.

‘‘We just keep pushing now and move on down the road,’’ Comegy said.