The Associated Press
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf took the first snap and barreled past would-be Mississippi tacklers for 12 yards.
Then he took the second snap and darted through a gigantic hole, rushing 17 yards downfield.
It was only two plays. But that’s all the time it took to tell that the Bulldogs were going to roll to their third straight Egg Bowl victory.
Mississippi State crushed rival Ole Miss 31-3 on Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium, earning bowl eligibility for the second straight season and a three-game winning streak in the Egg Bowl for the first time since 1942.
“I hope the kids in Mississippi understand that this is where you come to win championships,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. “When we came here, we made this a priority. And tomorrow we’ll restart that clock in our locker room that counts down to this game next year. But I’m going to have to figure out how to reset it for a leap year.”
Vick Ballard rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. He also caught two passes for 25 yards and a touchdown. LaDarius Perkins added a 36-yard touchdown run and a 20-yard touchdown catch. The 28-point margin of victory was the most for Mississippi State (6-6, 2-6 Southeastern Conference) in the series since 1919.
Ole Miss (2-10, 0-8) finished a miserable season that included 10 losses for the first time in program history and ends coach Houston Nutt’s four-year tenure. Nutt’s resignation was announced on Nov. 7, but he remained to coach the last three games, which the Rebels lost by a combined score of 110-13.
Nutt ends with a 24-26 overall record at Ole Miss, including a 10-22 mark in conference games. The Rebels have lost 14 straight SEC games.
Mullen has injected new life into the rivalry since his arrival in Starkville, with a smack-talking persona that’s been backed up with dominant victories. The Bulldogs unveiled new uniforms for Saturday’s game, with gold numbers, gold shoes and the phrase `Hail State’ replacing each player’s last name on the back of the jersey.
Mississippi State’s first drive went 11 plays and 68 yards, ending on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Relf to Ballard that gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead with 5:35 remaining in the first quarter.
“They kind of didn’t have (much) to play for,” Ballard said. “We did.”
Mississippi State stretched its lead to 21-0 by halftime on a 36-yard run by Perkins and then a 20-yard pass from Relf to Perkins. To seal any doubt, Ballard rushed for a 25-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to push the lead to 28-0.
Relf didn’t have to throw much but was effective when he did, completing 8 of 13 passes for 70 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“We didn’t really have the season we wanted to have,” Relf said. “But beating Ole Miss, it just gives us confidence that we can keep it going.”
Ole Miss never could get moving on offense. Its only sustained drive lasted 12 plays and 47 yards before Bryson Rose kicked a 28-yard field goal in the third quarter. Enrique Davis rushed for 32 yards on 12 carries while Donte Moncrief caught four passes for 20 yards.
The game had a fitting ending, with Ole Miss quarterback Barry Brunetti leveled at the 3-yard line by the Mississippi State defense as he was trying to score a touchdown. The crowd roared its approval as the Bulldogs stormed the field and Mullen raised the Egg Bowl trophy above his head.
Brunetti completed 12 of 22 passes for 112 yards.
“That was not the way I wanted to go out,” Nutt said. “We’re a team that is very fragile and you can’t turn the ball over. When things go bad, they go bad.”
The Rebels didn’t exactly rally around their outgoing coach, losing by lopsided margins to Louisiana Tech, LSU and Mississippi State since it was announced Nutt would not return.
Nutt was paid about $2.7 million this season to oversee the collapse. He’s also owed a $6 million buyout.
The search for the Rebels’ fifth coach in 17 seasons now begins in earnest. Whoever it is will have plenty of work ahead considering Ole Miss is 1-15 in the SEC, including the 14-game conference losing streak, over the past two seasons and resides in arguably the hardest division in college football.