By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State’s offense picked up where it left off last year and was the most explosive it’s ever been. MSU racked up 645 yards of offense, shattering the single-game school record of 596. And there was balance, as 336 of the yards came through the air, and 306 on the ground.
Fourteen different players got touches on offense, with veterans and youngsters making an impact. QB Chris Relf had command of the offense and distributed the ball well.
It helped that the offensive line, which is replacing left tackle Derek Sherrod and center J.C. Brignone, turned in solid play. Memphis had no sacks and only four tackles-for-loss. Star defensive linemen Dontari Poe and Frank Trotter were held in check.
MSU is breaking in some inexperienced linebackers, with Brandon Wilson making his first start in the middle and redshirt freshman Matthew Wells starting in his first college game. Several linebackers got on the field, but the dynamic wasn’t the same as last year when Chris White and K.J. Wright were patrolling the second level.
The undersized group didn’t make many big sticks and at times seemed unsure of where to be.
Keys to victory
Evaluating the keys to victory in Thursday’s GameDay section:
1. Kick up the tempo. MSU did just that, going to a no-huddle early on and striking quickly. Of MSU’s eight touchdown drives, all but one took longer than 2 minutes, 7 seconds. The first seven ate a mere 6:57 off the clock.
2. Test the Memphis QB. Starter Andy Summerlin wasn’t very poised against MSU’s blitz and soon gave way to freshman Taylor Reed. One thing MSU’s linebackers did well was get in the backfield and cause pressure, and even without defensive lineman Fletcher Cox playing, State had two sacks, and safety Nickoe Whitley made an interception.
3. Just execute. Offensively, MSU was nearly flawless most drives. Most of the scoring plays came on basic play calls, as the offensive line opened holes and receivers simply beat defensive backs. The veterans performed as coaches expected they would.
Tailback Vick Ballard rushed for a career-high 166 yards on 10 carries, scoring three touchdowns. His 16.6 yards per carry was a school record (minimum 10 carries).
It might be hard to make many judgments on MSU from this game, because Memphis is woeful. But coach Dan Mullen plans to use the win as a teaching tool as the Bulldogs prepare for a trip to No. 23 Auburn next Saturday.