NCAA Football Bowls Page
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Sports Network) - Chris Relf connected on 18-of-23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns and added another on the ground as 21st- ranked Mississippi State thoroughly dismantled Michigan, 52-14, in the Gator Bowl.
Relf added 39 yards rushing while Vick Ballard carried 19 times for 74 yards and three scores for the Bulldogs (9-4), who set a Gator Bowl record for points in closing out their season by winning eight of their last ten games.
"I told Chris during the warmups I thought he was going to play his best game of the season," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said about Relf, the game's MVP. "I thought he did a great job of managing the game."
Denard Robinson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns on 27-of-41 efficiency and carried 11 times for 59 yards for the Wolverines (7-6), who lost their final three games of the campaign.
Robinson finished the season with 1,702 yards on the ground to set the NCAA single-season rushing record for quarterbacks. He also accounted for a school- record 4,272 yards of total offense.
Roy Roundtree made nine receptions for 53 yards and a score for Michigan, which fell to 19-21 all-time in bowl games.
"All in all, we didn't play as well as we could play and they played extremely well," embattled Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They made plays and we didn't. They tackled better than us, they caught better than us and they ran better than us."
Things started well for the Wolverines, as Robinson threw a 10-yard touchdown to Roundtree to finish off the game's first possession in which they moved 78 yards in 10 plays.
The Bulldogs responded on their first touch, covering 79 yards in 11 plays to even the score on a four-yard scoring toss from Relf to Arceto Clark, who made the catch and stretched out to cross the plane of the goal line with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
Michigan was forced to punt on the next series and Marvin Bure partially blocked the kick, setting up the Bulldogs at the plus-29.
However, the Mississippi State offense could not pick up a first down bringing on Derek DePasquale to boot a 42-yard field goal to make it a 10-7 game with 2:23 remaining in the quarter.
Michigan needed only five plays on the next possession to move back in front. Robinson completed four passes on the quick drive, the last going to Martavious Odoms for a 27-yard touchdown to give the Wolverines a 14-10 lead with 34 ticks left in the period.
The 24 first quarter points were a Gator Bowl record, besting the 22 put up by Florida State and West Virginia in the 2005 game.
From there, things completely fell apart for the Wolverines as the Bulldogs reeled off 42 unanswered points to win their first appearance in a New Year's Day bowl game since the 1999 Cotton Bowl.
Ballard finished off a 10-play, 77-yard march by banging his way in from two yards out to put Mississippi State back in the lead for good with 11:38 left before the break.
Johnthan Banks intercepted Robinson on the ensuing possession giving the Mississippi Sate offense starting position at the Wolverines 43.
Ballard ran for five yards on 4th-and-2 to keep the drive going before Relf finished it with a one-yard scoring scamper over the right side to push the lead to 24-14 with 6 1/2 minutes left before the intermission.
Relf then connected with Ricco Sanders from 15 yards away with 25 seconds left in the half to make it 31-14 and establish a Gator Bowl with 45 first-half points.
Following a rare defensive stop, Brendan Gibbons missed a 35-yard field goal try on Michigan's first second half possession.
"When we got behind, we probably pressed a little bit and didn't concentrate as much," Rodriguez added. "We obviously didn't tackle well and couldn't get our defense off the field. And when we had the chance to develop some momentum offensively, particularly in the red zone when you can't kick field goals, it hampers you a little bit."
Mississippi took advantage of the miss and once again, methodically moved down the field to add to its lead. Ballard crossed the goal line from a yard out to cap off a 14-play, 80-yard march that ate up 5 1/2 minutes.
The Wolverines marched right down the field on 13 plays on the next series only to come up empty when Robinson's pass on fourth-and-goal intended for Junior Hemingway was knocked away by Banks on the right side of the end zone.
Whatever comeback hopes Michigan had where then permanently dashed on the very next play, Relf and LaDarius Perkins hooked up for an 81-yard catch and run that moved the ball to the Michigan seven from where Ballard found paydirt on the next play to make it 45-17 with 10 ticks left in the period.
Relf's final touchdown came on a 4th-and-10 pass to Michael Carr, who shed a tackle inside the 15 and raced into the end zone with 10 1/2 minutes to play.
"The nation saw us play and win on January 1 against a great program in Michigan," Mulled added. "This is the foundation of big wins to come."