By David Brandt/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS — Vick Ballard rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns and No. 20 Mississippi State easily handled Memphis 59-14 on Thursday night at the Liberty Bowl.
Mississippi State dominated from the start, taking a 31-7 lead after gaining 405 total yards in the first half. Things slowed down a little after that, but the Bulldogs still finished with a school-record 645 total yards.
Ballard had touchdown runs of 46 and 66 yards in the first half. He added a 1-yard touchdown early in the third quarter and averaged 16.6 yards per carry against the Tigers’ porous defense.
MSU quarterback Chris Relf completed 13 of 21 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns for MSU. He also rushed for 51 yards. Jameon Lewis caught four passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.
Mississippi State (1-0) has won 12 straight against Memphis (0-1), dating back to 1993.
Mississippi State announced two hours before the game that five players would be suspended for a variety of offseason rules violations, including starting defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
But the Bulldogs didn’t need the help, rolling up and down the field with regularity.
MSU opened the scoring with a 44-yard touchdown pass from Relf to a wide-open Chad Bumphis. From that point, the rout was on, with Bulldogs routinely finding open space.
Mississippi State has aspirations of competing in the loaded Southeastern Conference Western Division, which has five of six teams ranked. The Bulldogs certainly looked the part on Thursday, but Memphis was so bad it was hard to tell exactly what that meant. MSU’s starters were out of the game by midway through the third quarter.
The Tigers were looking for some optimism after a dismal 1-11 season in 2010 under first-year head coach Larry Porter. But none was in sight as Memphis looked woefully overmatched and undisciplined from the start, with four penalties in the first nine offensive plays.
It never got much better.
The Memphis offense didn’t cross midfield until midway through the second quarter, and rarely put together any sustained drives. The Tigers switched quarterbacks a couple times, alternating freshman Taylor Reed and sophomore Andy Summerlin. Nothing worked.
Reed completed 23-of-35 passes for 149 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Artaves Gibson rushed for 85 yards on 17 carries.
But the offense wasn’t Memphis’ main problem. It was defense.
Mississippi State averaged more than nine yards per play and scored the program’s most points away from Scott Field since 1936. Almost everything the Bulldogs tried worked, except for a fake punt that was snuffed out quickly by the Tigers.
It seemed like everyone from MSU joined in the fun. Backup quarterback Tyler Russell completed 5 of 9 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a 26-yard touchdown. Redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis caught four passes for 113 yards in his first college game.
Read more in Friday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.