Mullen hoping Mississippi State program turns the corner after beating Georgia

Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf wasn't perfect.

There were a few bad passes. He fumbled once, and was lucky to recover it.

But during the most important moments of Saturday's 24-12 victory over Georgia, Relf led the offense on a 10-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that might have changed the season. The final play was a perfectly executed 33-yard touchdown pass to Arceto Clark.

"Chris made a really nice throw," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "And Arceto made a really nice catch."

That may sound simple. But for this Mississippi State program, it could be a monumental step in the right direction as the Bulldogs try to qualify for a bowl came for the first time since 2007 and only the second time in a decade.

Up until Relf's touchdown throw, Mullen's two-year tenure in Starkville had been mostly defined by moral victories and oh-so-close moments. But now the Bulldogs have a legitimate victory to build upon after ending a nine-game losing streak to Georgia that dated back to 1974.

Mullen said it was impressive to watch his team grow up over a 60-minute period.

"I saw less panic out of our guys when they did make a mistake — it was a big thing for us," Mullen said. "If you make a mistake during the game that's fine, but don't let the mistake carry over to the next play."

After a brutal early-season schedule that included losses to two ranked teams — Auburn and LSU — the Bulldogs now have an opportunity to make some headway.

Mississippi State (2-2) hosts Alcorn State (3-0), which plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Davis-Wade Stadium. The following four games are against Houston, Florida, UAB and Kentucky.

That's not exactly a breeze, but it's also not out of the question that the Bulldogs could be bowl-eligible by Halloween.

Even with the easier schedule, the Bulldogs do have their share of issues. The offense is still spotty, averaging just 15 points per game in three Southeastern Conference games. Mullen said his team made five critical errors during the game that could have resulted in turnovers, but thanks to some lucky bounces there was no harm.

"It is a fine line between being really, really happy on a Sunday, and really upset on a Sunday," Mullen said.

Relf was very good against Georgia, completing 9 of 14 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 109 yards on 20 carries. Though he's certainly not a finished product, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior is starting to morph from a unpolished young player to a veteran.

"He's a very tough guy and he continues pushing," Clark said. "When he does that, it gives the rest of the team momentum and the will to keep driving."

The Bulldogs also have freshman quarterback Tyler Russell, who didn't play against Georgia, but has been used extensively. He's more of a passing threat than Relf, and Mullen said there's still situations where he could be used.

Chad Bumphis continues to be the go-to receiver, making four catches for 64 yards against Georgia. Mullen said the offensive line cleaned up many of its early-season problems, giving Relf more time to decide whether to run or throw.

Mississippi State's strength remains its defense, which kept Georgia out of the end zone on Saturday until late in the fourth quarter after the game was well in hand. Linebacker K.J. Wright dominated, finishing with seven tackles, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and half a sack.

"I told our kids we're already good," Diaz said. "If all we're concerned about is being good, we're already there and we can have a good parade if we want to. But I see glimpses of dominance, and that's what we want to be. We want to be dominant."