The Southeastern Conference has yet to experience an embarrassing non-conference setback, but Saturday night provided another close call.
Chris Relf's 17-yard touchdown pass to LaDarius Perkins enabled Mississippi State to come away with a 26-20 overtime escape of visiting Louisiana Tech. Dan Mullen's Bulldogs entered as 20-point favorites yet had to snatch an interception late in regulation and another in overtime before Relf's game-winner.
Despite surviving, Mississippi State is just 2-2 in a season that began with lofty expectations and a No. 20 ranking.
"We have a bunch of things we need to fix up, but we haven't hit a panic button, and we're not scrapping anything that we're doing," Mullen said Sunday. "We just have to execute better, especially when we get down in the red zone. So far this year in the red zone, we've left 42 points on the field, so that's over 10 points a game."
The SEC avoided a trio of unsightly setbacks the first week of the season when Auburn, South Carolina and Kentucky rallied past Utah State, East Carolina and Western Kentucky.
Mississippi State went 9-4 last year and finished 15th nationally. The Bulldogs upset both Georgia and Florida, defeated Ole Miss for a second consecutive time and then culminated the productive season with a 52-14 thrashing of Michigan in the Gator Bowl.
This past April, offensive lineman Derek Sherrod was the first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, and defensive lineman Pernell McPhee and linebackers K.J. Wright and Chris White got drafted as well.
"We replaced them with very young players who don't have a lot of experience," Mullen said, "but there were guys in key moments of the game last night who were stepping up and making plays."
Georgia, meanwhile, is hoping to get above .500 after an 0-2 start. The Bulldogs haven't entered a game over .500 since last season's trip to South Carolina, a span that covers 16 games.
It's the longest such streak since the Bulldogs went 32 games in 1955-58.
"That's the goal, because we would be above .500 in league play and above .500 overall," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "It would be a great boost for our team and our fan base, but if we do it, it's going to be really hard-earned. All you've got to do is watch LSU-Mississippi State this year like most of us did the other night and know that Mississippi State can light up and play physical with anybody in America."
Odds and ends
Georgia freshman tailback Isaiah Crowell is averaging 102.75 rushing yards per game, which is tied for 27th nationally with Florida's Chris Rainey and Louisiana Tech's Lennon Creer, who played at Tennessee in 2007-08. ... With guard Chris Burnette out with a knee injury, Georgia's five starting linemen were in for all 82 plays at Ole Miss. ... Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray is 18th nationally in efficiency, having completed 70 of 110 passes for 940 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. ... Drew Butler ranks fifth in punting with a 48.06-yard average. ... Georgia is 13th nationally in total defense, allowing 270.0 yards a game, and fifth on third down, allowing a 25.0-percent conversion rate. ... Mullen, the former Florida offensive coordinator, has coached in every on-campus SEC venue except Sanford Stadium.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...