ATHENS, Ga. — Mississippi State has lost each of its first three Southeastern Conference games, but coach Dan Mullen hasn't lost hope.
"We aren't too far from where we want to be this year," Mullen said after Mississippi State was held without an offensive touchdown and had three turnovers in Saturday's 24-10 loss to Georgia.
"We had some opportunities to do things and we didn't execute," Mullen said. "We had some opportunities to do things and we didn't execute."
Aaron Murray threw for two touchdown passes in the first quarter and Isaiah Crowell ran for 104 yards for Georgia (3-2, 2-1 SEC), which led 21-3 at halftime before surviving a listless second half for its third straight win.
Chris Relf passed for 157 yards and had a team-best 31 yards rushing but couldn't lead a touchdown drive, leaving Mississippi State (2-3, 0-3) still looking for its first SEC win.
Mississippi State was held to a 42-yard field goal by Derek Depasquale before finally reaching the end zone when Darius Slay returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Relf completed 19 of 31 passes for 157 yards and two interceptions.
Mississippi State managed only 213 total yards, including 34 carries for 56 yards. The Bulldogs began the day ranked third in the SEC with 217.5 yards rushing per game.
"Everybody just needs to execute better," said running back Vick Ballard, who was held to 23 yards rushing on eight carries. "It's the little things that we are not doing right now. I can only do my job and everyone else needs to do theirs. We need to work harder in practice, so we can get that extra inch that will make a difference.
"We need to continue to work hard, because it isn't going to get easier."
The teams had to be separated at midfield at the end of pregame warmups. Georgia players accused the Mississippi State players of jumping on the big "G'' logo which stretches almost 20 yards at midfield.
"They came jumping on the G and you just don't do that," said linebacker Christian Robinson. "The locker room was electric after that happened. There were chairs being thrown. I've just never seen this locker room like that. You just don't do that in our house. You don't jump on somebody's symbol."
"Somehow our players thought Mississippi State was disrespecting our G," said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "From what the officials told me, their players didn't have any intent of doing that."
Georgia led 21-3 at halftime.
The bright spot for Mississippi State was strong defense, especially in the second half when Georgia was held to a field goal.
"I was really impressed with the defense, especially in the second half," Mullen said. "We made some adjustments at the half. As the game went on, our guys got more comfortable and were able to execute at a high level."
Murray had what Richt called a "hot and cold" performance. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 160 yards with two touchdowns but had three interceptions to match his total for the first four games.
Big plays on special teams set up Georgia's first two touchdowns.
Brandon Boykin's 30-yard punt return set up Georgia's first possession at the Mississippi State 33. Three plays later, Murray found Orson Charles for a 21-yard touchdown pass.
A shanked 11-yard punt by Baker Swedenberg gave Georgia the ball at Mississippi State's 22 later in the opening quarter. Murray's 6-yard pass to Malcolm Mitchell gave Georgia a 14-3 lead.
"We made lift easy for Georgia, giving them a short field a few times and turning over the ball," Mullen said. "We have to execute at a high level every week, especially in a conference like the SEC."
Murray's second interception, by linebacker Cameron Lawrence, gave Mississippi State the ball at the Georgia 28 with 3:34 remaining in the half. Georgia's defense answered when Relf's pass bounced off receiver Chris Smith's hands and was intercepted by cornerback Sanders Commings.
Georgia took the ball at its 19 and, with Crowell doing most of the work, moved 81 yards on eight plays. The drive ended with Carlton Thomas' 7-yard scoring run.
Mullen alternated quarterbacks in the third quarter. Dylan Favre, the nephew of former longtime NFL quarterback Brett Favre, took over for Relf for the first series of the second half before Relf returned the following possession. The two then shared Mississippi's third possession.
Favre threw two passes, both incomplete.
"We were able to play some younger players and get them some experience," Mullen said. "I wanted to keep some momentum going and give Chris a break, so I put in Dylan Favre. He now has some playing time in case we ever need to go to him again later this season."
Arceto Clark dropped a pass from Relf when hit by Brandon Boykin late in the third quarter. Commings recovered the fumble, setting up Blair Walsh's 18-yard field goal.