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Smith Column: 2010 Bulldogs have the look of 1999 squad

October 31, 2010

There's one thing for sure about the 2010 version of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
They know how to make things interesting.
For the third-straight week, MSU made a play at the end or had something go its way to preserve a victory.
It started with a missed field goal by Florida as the Bulldogs beat the Gators 10-7 in Gainesville, then a Patrick Shed fumble on a kickoff return that was recovered by Michael Carr helped MSU beat UAB 29-24 on Homecoming.
The latest in the line of close wins came in Saturday's 'Dog and 'Cat fight at Davis Wade Stadium. Former East Webster player Johnathan Banks intercepted Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline with 55 seconds left in the game to clinch a 24-17 final.
Ironically, all of those games have been televised by ESPNU.
"It's pretty good for the ratings on ESPNU," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "We make sure everyone stays tuned in for all four quarters."
The Bulldogs seem to be enjoying the "cardiac kids" way of winning ballgames.
"We'll take a victory any way we can get it," MSU offensive tackle Derek Sherrod said. "We just go out there and play hard. That's what we try to make our identity and not stopping until that last second stops. That's what we did (against Kentucky). We didn't play our best ball, but it was enough."
This year's Bulldogs are very similar in how they win games as the 1999 MSU edition was.
In that season, MSU won 10 games and went to the Peach Bowl. Along the way, the Bulldogs defeated Memphis 13-10, Auburn 18-16, LSU 17-16, Kentucky 23-22 and Ole Miss 23-20.
Matt Wyatt, the senior quarterback of that MSU team, remembers fondly what it was like to win those games and sees the same type of character developing with Mullen's group.
"We were very resilient...never, ever gave up in any game," Wyatt said. "This team has the same resiliency. This defense rivals our '99 bunch. 
"This team is a better rushing team offensively than we were in '99 for the most part. We, on the other hand, threw the ball well, especially in the 2-minute drill situations."
The running game for the Bulldogs this season is triggered by senior quarterback Chris Relf.
Mississippi State out-rushed Kentucky 214 to 89 yards and that's pretty good because the Wildcats have some athletes who can get loose if provided the space.
When Relf is running the football well (he had 79 yards on the ground Saturday), the rest of the offense seems to feed off his success. Vick Ballard probably doesn't get 103 yards rushing if Relf doesn't add the element of his running ability to balance everything out.
The Bulldogs are showing they can have success by running the football and playing solid defense. The punting of Heath Hutchins was also a key with eight attempts for an average of 43.1 yards and a long of 63 yards.
With its seventh win of the season, MSU can seriously start thinking about attending a pretty nice bowl.
Saturday's game may just have been an elimination game for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, formerly the Peach Bowl, in Atlanta. Chick-fil-A Bowl representatives were present at the game.
Mullen is also thinking about Atlanta, but he's not ruling out a trip to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in early December.
"We're not mathematically out for that," Mullen said. "That's where our focus is."
 
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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