STARKVILLE – The victory was thorough, and in more ways than one.
Mississippi State handed Memphis a 49-7 defeat in both teams’ season opener Saturday night, and it did so with a multitude of weapons and methods.
Whether it was Chris Relf or Tyler Russell running the offense, it was clicking. Whether it was Vick Ballard or Robert Elliott getting the carries, the chains kept moving.
Oh, and there was the defense, which nearly pitched its first shutout since 1999.
It had the Davis Wade Stadium crowd of 56,032 – fourth-largest in school history and the biggest for a home opener – ringing their cowbells early and often.
“You can’t go into a game thinking you’re going to blow out somebody, so we came in just like it was Auburn or Alabama,” Russell said. “We came in ready to play, and that’s how we prepared.”
Russell, a redshirt freshman seeing his first collegiate action, played with the calmness of a veteran. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns while splitting snaps with Relf, a junior who made his first career start.
Relf was 7 of 9 for 116 yards, one TD and an interception.
MSU was just as balanced running the ball. The Bulldogs gained 197 of their 569 total yards on the ground. Ballard had 60 yards and two scores, LaDarius Perkins had 57 yards, and starter Elliott picked up 39 yards.
Leading 21-0 at halftime, MSU put another 21 points on the board in the third quarter. Two of the TDs came on Russell passes – 27 yards to Brandon Heavens and 57 yards to Chad Bumphis.
“I think we were a little sloppy in the first half,” second-year coach Dan Mullen said. “I thought we played good in the first half, but not great. Our guys really pulled together in the second half and did some good things. We had some great balance throughout the game.”
Heavens got the start instead of Bumphis, who was MSU’s top receiver last year. Heavens finished with five catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns, while Bumphis had four for 100 and two TDs.
Leon Berry made five grabs for 91 yards.
While Memphis made it easy for MSU receivers to get open, Berry gave most of the credit to his team.
“I think we’re just really that good,” he said. “I mean, we had a lot of people coming back this year, and people expected the offense to be really good this year. And so that’s what we did, we proved to everybody that we can do it.”
Relf’s first pass of the game was intercepted, but Memphis missed a 49-yard field goal – after deciding not to go for it on fourth-and-2 – and Relf redeemed himself on the ensuing drive with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Berry for a 7-0 lead.
Then it was Russell’s turn.
On the Bulldogs’ next drive, he took them 91 yards in seven plays, firing a 20-yard TD pass through the fingers of a Memphis defender and into the hands of Heavens. It was the first collegiate touchdown for both players.
State added another touchdown just before halftime on Vick Ballard’s 51-yard run.
Memphis, which like MSU had a quarterback battle raging all offseason, turned to true freshman Ryan Williams after sophomore Cannon Smith proved ineffective.
First-year coach Larry Porter was oddly conservative, passing up on a fourth-and-1 for another long field goal that missed. And that came after taking two timeouts to talk it over.
Memphis was held to 237 total yards. Williams was 10 of 17 for 85 yards and two interceptions, while Smith – who later came back in – was 10 of 15 for 11 yards.
Now MSU turns around to play Auburn on Thursday.
“This game’s over with now,” Russell said. “We’ve got to prepare for Auburn, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Brad Locke / NEMS Daily Journal