In the heat of the summer, this is the most depressing of days for SEC football fans. The season is on the horizon but seems so far away for those that eat, sleep and breathe football in the south. With that in mind, Bulldog Blitz wants to make the time spent waiting worth your while as we bring you a countdown of sorts leading all the way up to the big day on August 30 when Mississippi State opens the newly renovated Davis Wade Stadium against in-state foe, Southern Miss.
Over the course of the next two months, Bulldog Blitz counts down the off season with a look at each scholarship player on the roster. We're now 38 days away from the first kick of the 2014 season for MSU and take a look at the 38-point Gator Bowl win against Michigan in 2011.
Gator Bowl- January 1, 2011: Mississippi State 52, Michigan 14
The Bulldogs were coming off of an impressive year in 2009 despite finishing just short of bowl eligibility. State had a new coach in Dan Mullen take the team to a 5-7 season but they were much more competitive than they had been in nearly 10 years with a game against #7 LSU coming just a couple of inches short and hard-fought battles at home against Georgia Tech, Houston and #1 Florida that were all in striking distance. Still, State ended the season with as much optimism as they had in year after their triumph over top 25 Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl.
Following the 41-27 win against their arch rival, Mullen made a proclamation that stuck with fans for years to come and put a fire underneath the rivalry. After Houston Nutt had declared that the Rebels were the team in the state on the rise, Mullen offered his rebuttal yelling the same sentiment about the Bulldogs over the loud speakers. The rivalry has been a buzz since.
With momentum going in the Bulldogs' direction and the emergence of junior quarterback Chris Relf and star athletes like Ladarius Perkins on offense, State's crew was starting to get the ball rolling. The Bulldogs added defensive coordinator Manny Diaz from Middle Tennessee and Oklahoma State defensive line coach Chris Wilson to give the other side of the ball a boost.
Everything was set up for a strong year including the best collection of talent and experience on the offensive line in years. The Bulldogs pulled off big wins against Georgia at home and Florida and Ole Miss on the road and had exciting bouts with Auburn and Arkansas at home which they came up short in during the final possessions. They would move into the top 25 for the first time since 2001 and the program seemed to be getting back to prominence.
Following the second Egg Bowl win in as many years, the Bulldogs were selected to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., against a Michigan team that was a bit underwhelming as opposed to their past success. It showed in this battle as the Bulldogs proved that there was more than enough athleticism to stop quarterback Denard Robsinson despite the media's focus.
In front of a predominate maroon-clad, cowbell-clanging crowd, State and Michigan went back and forth early on. The Wolverines drew first blood in the opening drive with Robinson driving the team down the field and throwing a touchdown just four minutes in. State answered with a touchdown drive of its own but would trail 14-10 at the end of the first quarter. From then on, it was all Bulldogs.
Relf and company dominated the Michigan defense with slashing and hard-hitting football over the course of the next three quarters and kept the game balanced producing 204 yards on the ground with 281 in the air. The combination of Perkins and Relf running the read option produced much of the same outcomes as it did in the Egg Bowl just a game prior.
State's defense was not to be outdone. The crew allowed just 189 yards of offense over the last three quarters after Michigan was able to put together 153 in the first three drives alone.
The Bulldogs got young receivers like Chris Smith, Michael Carr and Ricco Sanders solid playing time and showed just how deep the team could be moving forward. They also showcased the ability of Vick Ballard as the next big back for MSU as he carried it 20 times for 76 yards. Relf was named the MVP of the day with 18-23 passing for 281 yards producing 30 more yards on the ground and carrying even more momentum into 2011.
It was a breakout year for MSU as the team was considered underdogs the entire season. Losing a teammate, Nick Bell, to cancer at a rapid pace also allowed more fuel to the fire and the Bulldogs emerged with a great season and one that would catapult them into more success with three more bowl trips to follow.
Coming Tomorrow: A look back at the 2013 Liberty Bowl win