Smith column: Clark picks a good time for key catch
Mississippi State sophomore wide receiver Arceto Clark responded when his team needed him the most.
With Mississippi State up 10-6 in a key Southeastern Conference football game against Georgia Saturday night at Davis Wade Stadium, Clark came up with a play that coach Dan Mullen and the homestanding Bulldogs were looking for.
Clark caught a pass from quarterback Chris Relf, twisted his body toward the end zone and his momentum carried him to paydirt.
The play gave MSU a 17-6 lead and the cushion it needed to beat Georgia 24-12.
"We've been working hard and it seemed like everything is just turning around, going our way and the way we needed it to go," Clark said.
The touchdown can be considered a reward for Clark, who had to sit out the 2009 season because of a suspension and made the change from receiver to cornerback and back to receiver during the offseason.
Through it all Clark decided to stick with State.
"I've put all that in the past and have been looking toward the future," Clark said. "I'm just trying to continue to make plays to help my team the best that I can."
Clark grinned from ear to ear when the subject of his touchdown came up and said it felt good getting into the end zone which is something he hasn't done since he was at Shannon High School.
Relf connected with Clark on the same route that was run last week against LSU that was picked off in the end zone and run back to the 40-yard line.
Clark was happy to be in a position to make a play this time.
"Being a receiver, I'm just out there to catch the ball," Clark said. "It was really nothing spectacular. (Relf) just put the ball in the right spot. I locked in on it and I knew I had to make the play so I made it."
Fellow sophomore receiver Chad Bumphis was proud of his teammate for coming through in the clutch.
"He works hard every day and has worked hard since he got here," Bumphis said. "It's good for him to bounce back."
MSU followed up Clark's touchdown catch with a 1-yard scoring run by Vick Ballard just over 1 minute later. That gave State a 24-6 cushion.
To give credit where it is due, there were two things that MSU needed to do to pick up its first SEC win of the season.
It needed to keep playing the solid defense that it had done pretty much all season and the offense had to find a way to score points. The defense did its part and the offense did just enough behind Relf.
There were several instances when the third largest crowd of 56,721 tried to get into the game and MSU had a hard time being consistent enough on offense.
State was able to strike quickly on offense with a 13-yard touchdown run from Ballard to take a 7-0 lead, but that was it for the first half.
Georgia dominated the time of possession in the first half with 19:50 to MSU's 10:10 and also had the advantage in first downs 12-6, but only had a pair of Blair Walsh field goals to show for it.
With Mississippi State on top 7-6 at halftime, it was obviously going to be a test of wills in the second half to see which Bulldogs squad was going to make enough plays to pull it out. It turned out to be MSU's version.
It appears that MSU head coach Dan Mullen has chosen to sink or swim with Relf this season.
Not even a personal foul penalty on Relf in the second quarter was enough to bench him during the game.
There were times where Relf looked very good running the football and even had a good throw or two. He had some pretty bad tosses as well.
"Chris did a really nice job tonight," Mullen said. "We did a couple of things that played to his strengths, but he threw the ball really well. I was pleased with his performance tonight and his toughness."
Mullen will still pick and choose his moments to play redshirt freshman Tyler Russell, but for the most part, it looks like Relf is going to be his guy.
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.