No. 21 MSU Routs Michigan 52-14 To Claim 2011 Progressive Gator Bowl
It was MSU’s fourth-consecutive bowl win dating back to the 1999 Peach Bowl and first-ever victory against Michigan as the Bulldogs conclude the 2010 campaign with a 9-4 ledger.
Mississippi State, now 7-7 all-time in bowl games and 3-6-2 versus Big 10 foes, also set several school bowl records with points scored (52) and margin of victory (38). In addition, Vic Ballard tied Dontae Walker’s record of 18 points scored he set against Texas A&M in the 2000 Independence Bowl, while the 485 total yards of offense were second only to the 499 gained against North Carolina in the 1974 Sun Bowl.
Chris Relf, who was named the game’s MVP, completed 18 of his 23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns. The 281 passing yards were the second most in MSU bowl history, behind the 287 thrown by Greg Plump versus North Carolina in the 1993 Peach Bowl. They are also the only two quarterbacks to throw for more than 200 yards in a bowl game.
Relf, a junior from Montgomery, Ala., also scored on the ground from 1-yard out and finished with 311 total yards.
“That was fantastic,” second-year MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “What terrific fan support we had. I’m so happy and so proud for the seniors and for what they’ve accomplished the two years I’ve been here.
“To send them off as champions is fantastic.”
As prolific as MSU’s offense was, so too was the defense.
The Bulldogs held the Wolverines (7-6) to 342 yards, with 153 coming in the opening quarter. Michigan did enjoy a 14-10 lead after the first frame, but failed to score another point the remainder of the game.
Quarterback Denard Robinson, a one-time Heisman Trophy candidate who entered the game averaging 136.9 rushing yards, was limited to a season-low 51 yards after grounding out 59 in the first quarter. Through the air, he was 27 of 41 for 254 yards and an interception.
MSU finished with 4 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, while Charles Mitchell paced the Bulldogs with 5.5 tackles, followed by K.J. Wright.
“I told Manny (Diaz, defensive coordinator), to stay with our game plan,” Mullen said. “We just had to start wrapping up and make plays.”
Robinson’s arm produced the game’s first points when he connected with Roy Roundtree for a 10-yard scoring strike. MSU quickly answered, though, and evened the score when Relf hit Arceto Clark from 4 yards out.
On their next possession, the Bulldogs took their first lead at 10-7 on a 42-yard field goal by Derek DePasquale. Back came the Wolverines, however, who went back on top following a 27-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to Martavious Odoms.
That play, though, would be Michigan’s last highlight of the game. From that point, it was all Mississippi State.
With 11:38 left in the first half, Vick Ballard scored the first of his three touchdowns to give MSU a 17-14 lead. Then with 6:35 remaining, Relf found the end zone to extend the advantage to 24-14.
But the Bulldogs weren’t done, as they scored again with 25 seconds left, this time on a 15-yard pass from Relf to Ricco Sanders, his first-career TD reception, for a 31-14 lead.
Relf also wore No. 36 in honor of Nick Bell.
“I told Chris during the warmups I thought he was going to play his best game of the season,” Mullen said. “I thought he did a great job of managing the game.”
It was an opening half that didn’t see MSU punt or draw a penalty.
In the second half, the Bulldogs, who converted 9 of their 17 third-down attempts and were 5 of 5 on fourth down, got two more touchdowns from Ballard covering 1 and 7 yards. Ballard finished the year with 19 rushing touchdowns, breaking the single-season mark of 16 set by Jackie Parker in 1952.
MSU’s final points were the result of a 31-yard pass from Relf to Michael Carr, the first of the freshman’s young and promising career.
“The nation saw us play and win on January 1 and against a great program in Michigan,” Mullen said. “This is the foundation of big wins to come.”