Sat Nov 28 05:11pm EST
Mississippi State 41, Ole Miss 27. Other than the general, cowbell-fueled revelry of the home crowd in a particularly satisfying upset, my favorite scene from Starkville was Ole Miss' beloved Colonel Reb, banned from the sideline, checking the action from one of the ramps in Davis-Wade Stadium:
At least one Rebel decided to show when the actual team, for the most part, did not. The final score doesn't remotely indicate how thoroughly Ole Miss was run out of the building in the second half, the final insult on a frustrating regular season that began in the top 10, descended into chaos with a pair of losses in ther first three conference games, looked alive again with the emergence of Dexter McCluster and wins over Tennessee and LSU and finally ends with a thud, with a bad loss that will knock the Rebels out of the polls energize their struggling rival's long-suffering fan base for the next nine months. Jevan Snead, the hero of last year's November revival, capped his season by throwing three interceptions, one run back for a touchdown, sealing his fate as the SEC's interception leader for 2009.
None of which should obscure the best overall game Miss State has played in probably 10 years. The Bulldogs have been close all year, with the last second loss to LSU on the goal line and the best defensive effort yet against Tim Tebow, and finally broke through with rare vital signs on offense, courtesy of sophomore quarterback Chris Relf, who clinched his transition from "change of pace/Wildcat" option to "quarterback of the future." Relf, alternating with game but very limited starter Tyson Lee, set up the Bulldogs' only touchdown of the first half on a 22-yard run inside the Ole Miss five, and led MSU on three sustained touchdown drives operating Dan Mullen's spread option full-time in the second half, including two touchdown passes on four attempts -- one of them on an off-balance, 4th-and-10 heave into traffic that broke the game open -- that proved Relf is at least a threat to throw. MSU finished with 300-plus yards rushing for the third time in the last four weeks, and even excluded the defensive touchdown that pushed the final number to 41, the 34-point effort by the offense was the most the Bulldogs have scored against an SEC defense since 2005.
At 5-7, State's record is only one game better, but it couldn't end the season in a more different state of mind today than it found itself in a year ago, when the Bulldogs finished with 24 total yards in a 45-0 rout in Oxford that slammed the coffin on the Sylvester Croom era. By all appearances, MSU has what it bargained for in Mullen -- an offensive mind who can build a competitor people are actually willing to pay to see do something other than drag games into the mud -- and may have its own, poor man's version of Tebow in the 6'3", 235-pound Relf, whose status as a two-star recruit two years ago looks preposterous with his potential as a running quarterback in this kind of offense. If he makes it back with a full offseason as the focal point in Mullen's system and develops as a credible passer to keep safeties out of the box, this could be a dangerous offense in '1o, which may be the first time in my lifetime anyone has floated that notion as a realistic possibility.