STARKVILLE — Backup quarterback Tyler Russell tied a school record with four touchdown passes in his debut and Mississippi State fell just shy of the mark for total yards on the way to a season-opening 49-7 win over Memphis on Saturday night.
Maurice Langston had two interceptions, Chad Bumphis and Brandon Heavens each caught two touchdowns and the Bulldogs ruined the debut of Tigers coach Larry Porter with the most points they’ve had since 2002.
Chris Relf started and played well, but Russell stole the show with a nearly flawless performance against the overmanned Tigers secondary. He’s now one of seven Bulldogs quarterbacks tied for the school record of four passing touchdowns in a game.
The Bulldogs passed for 372 yards and finished with 569 total yards, just 27 shy of the school record.
Running back Vick Ballard also had two rushing touchdowns for Mississippi State, including a 51-yarder.
Relf overcame an interception on Mississippi State’s first drive with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Leon Berry. He found Berry sprinting down the right sideline after Memphis’ Akeem Davis fell in coverage and Berry eluded a tackler at the 10 for the score.
Russell, a redshirt freshman from nearby Meridian, took over on the next series and led a crisp drive, completing all three passes and hitting Brandon Heavens with a 20-yard scoring pass that went through the hands of defensive back Marcus Ball and over two defenders.
Ballard made it 21-0 with his long run untouched up the middle with 2:21 left till halftime.
The Tigers finished the first quarter with minus-7 yards rushing and continuously got in their own way to let the Bulldogs pull away.
Memphis entered Mississippi State territory four times in the first half. They missed field goals on two trips, had a holding call wipe away a first-and-10 at the Bulldogs 15 and lost another chance on Ryan Williams’ first interception. They also failed to convert eight third-down tries.
Russell started the second half and picked apart the Tigers secondary before hitting Heavens with a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Maurice Langston picked off Williams a second time on Memphis’ opening series, setting up Ballard’s second touchdown on a 1-yard dive and Russell hit Bumphis with a 57-yard touchdown pass on the Bulldogs’ next drive. Then he added a 25-yard scoring pass to Bumphis in the fourth quarter.
He completed 12 of 13 passes on his four scoring drives for 218 yards and finished 13 of 16 for 256 overall. He played all but one series in the second half as Relf rested on the sidelines and listened to coaches call plays on a headset.
Relf showed improvement as a passer, completing 7 of 9 for 116 yards. But he was most effective on the option and in tandem with LaDarius Perkins. Relf finished with xx yards rushing, Perkins had 57 and Ballard had 60.
Porter, a former Tigers tailback who served as LSU’s running backs coach before being hired to replace Tommy West last winter, pulled starting quarterback Cannon Smith after three inconsistent series. Williams played into the fourth quarter, hitting 10 of 17 passes for 85 yards, before Smith returned late in the fourth to throw for the team’s only points — a 27-yard touchdown to Marcus Rucker.
The Tigers, 2-10 last season, managed just 237 total yards, committed eight penalties for 88 yards and converted just 2 of 15 third downs.
Read more about this game in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
Chris Talbott/The Associated Press