By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
From the outside, Memphis looks like a program in the dumps, with no clear path out.
Larry Porter is hoping Sept. 1 will begin changing that perception.
That’s when his Tigers host Mississippi State on the first day of the college football season. Entering his second season at the helm, Porter is targeting that game as a chance to display the progress he’s seen made in his short time. Memphis went 1-11 last season, its worst record since a 1-10 mark in 1986 and the first 11-loss season in program history.
The first loss of 2010 came at MSU’s hands, 49-7 in Starkville.
“I think them being the quality team that they are, it is a great measuring stick for the progress that we’ve made as a program,” Porter said Wednesday. “The other thing, I think, when you play a quality opponent in the first game, it forces you to play at a high level early. If you can do that, it can kind of prepare you on for greater things.”
MSU went 9-4 last season and won the Gator Bowl. When he looks at what Dan Mullen has done in two years’ time – the way he’s brought life to the offense, developed talent and fired up the fan base – Porter sees a model that he’d like his program to follow, at least in spirit.
Porter has his own way of fixing Memphis football, but his philosophies are very similar to Mullen’s.
“You see that story all the time, but it’s just a matter of staying the course and continuing to find ways to build confidence with your team,” Porter said. “And that’s what he did. He kept pushing and pressing and getting them to believe in themselves and each other, and they win a couple of games, and the tables start to turn.”
When asked to name the biggest challenge in facing MSU, Porter said with a chuckle, “Where you wanna start?” But he pointed to quarterback Chris Relf and said one of his primary goals this year is to make the QB position stronger.
Porter said Andy Summerlin has the edge right now over Will Gilchrist. Both are sophomores with no starting experience.
“But those young guys are making tremendous progress,” the coach said. “It’ll be interesting to see how it ends at the end of this week in terms of just with all scrimmaging we’ve had in the course of this week and where they are.”
Since it is the season opener, Porter has had plenty of time to prepare for State. He said the Tigers studied up on the Bulldogs some in the spring and summer and will do more as camp wears on.
MSU likewise looked at Memphis some in the spring but hasn’t done any on-field prep yet for the Tigers.
“Next week’s when we really start getting into game plan,” Mullen said. “We’ll start touching on it early in the week, and then as the week grows, we’ll get more and more into it.”
The Bulldogs will be clear favorites at the Liberty Bowl, but Porter is expecting to be competitive and also expects fans to turn out for a new season as the old one is put to rest.
“I think they are excited, very excited,” he said, “and we can’t wait to take the field and show them we do have a better product to put on the field. And it’ll only get better as time goes on.”