JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Taking a look at the stat sheet from Mississippi State's 52-14 Gator Bowl victory over Michigan, the casual MSU fan might not recognize the names of the leading receivers.
With Chad Bumphis breaking his clavicle in the Egg Bowl victory over Ole Miss, the door was opened for the up-and-coming receivers to make an impact in a high-profile game. The group of young players may not have had one standout performer, but as a group they more than filled the team's needs at receiver.
West Point native and true freshman Michael Carr came into the Gator Bowl with only one catch for 9 yards for the season, but caught three passes for 65 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown from Chris Relf in the fourth quarter.
Carr said the young group, which consists of himself, sophomores Arceto Clark and Brandon Heavens, as well as freshmen Chris Smith and Ricco Sanders were up for the challenge on Saturday.
"We have faith in each other to pull it out and make plays," Carr said. "We're all playmakers, so we believe we can make plays."
Sanders, a Duncan, S.C., native, made his first reception of the season in the second quarter, and caught his first touchdown of his young MSU career two plays later.
Relf had a career day on his way to earning Gator Bowl Most Valuable Player honors with 281 yards passing and three touchdowns, thanks in large part to the young receivers. Mullen also praised the receivers effort in filling the role vacated by Bumphis' injury.
"We told them that as a group they needed to step up," Mullen said. "Such great balance amongst those guys of all of them filling the role that was left empty by Chad."
Bumphis' injury was not the only reason the Bulldogs were thin at receiver heading into the game. The lone senior of the receiving corps, Leon Berry was sidelined for the rest of the season when he broke his leg in the Bulldogs' victory over Houston. Also, junior tight end Marcus Green has not played since injuring his knee against Auburn.
By the time the Gator Bowl rolled around, the leading active receiver for the Bulldogs was Clark with 317 yards, while Heavens was not far behind with 304 yards. Even for an offense that likes to run the ball, those are low totals for leading receivers.
"When Chad Bumphis is hurt, Leon Berry has been out for the season, the young players have to step up, and they did that," Mullen said. "It wasn't one of them that stepped up."
Heavens finished the game with two catches for 12 yards, but most fans will remember his de-cleating of a Michigan defensive player on Relf's 81-yard completion to LaDarius Perkins.
Saturday's Gator Bowl may have been a glimpse at the future of junior running back Vick Ballard was the only MSU player to catch a pass who wasn't a sophomore or freshman.
Mullen has emphasized recruiting skilled players to run his spread offense since coming to Starkville, and it paid dividends in Saturday's win. Even Bumphis, who had 634 receiving yards and five touchdowns for the season, is only a sophomore.
With Mullen's young receivers coming of age, the days of the grind-it-out style of offense may be numbered in Starkville.