Big plays. Lots of them.
Coach Dan Mullen's offense produced rushes of 75, 30, and 24 yards on the ground; with pass completions of 58, 55,and 38 more yards. Even the return teams made their 2010 presence known at last as Leon Berry brought back a Brave kickoff 97 yards for touchdown and a comfortable 35-16 halftime lead. That sufficed to survive a scoreless third period by both teams before the Bulldogs put it away with a couple of fourth-quarter scores.
A crowd of 50,439 watched, so Davis Wade Stadium was not filled for the first time this fall. But all the tickets had been purchased per MSU officials so the sellout string officially stands at seven games now.
With so many big Bulldog plays there was no lack of MVP candidates. Berry for one, with his second career kickoff touchdown and 97 more yards—same as the return—on three catches. Starting quarterback Chris Relf had his most efficient passing day as a Dog to date, 11-of-15 for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Alternate Tyler Russell wasn't bad either, 8-of-14 for 127 yards. TB Vick Ballard scored three rushing touchdowns including that 75-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter and ended up with 119 yards on eight rushes.
Or on defense, where LB Chris White had 2.5 sacks—half as many as the entire team posted in the previous four games—and another hurry. LB K.J. Wright added eight tackles to his '10 total and broke up a fourth-down ASU throw.
But the standout Stater had to be WR Chad Bumphis who was much, much more than a pass catcher. He did that well enough with nine receptions, 133 yards, and two touchdowns from Relf. To that though he added 38 rushing yards, all from direct-snap plays as State used a ‘wild' formation extensively the first time this season. Bumphis also returned three punts for 19 yards, giving him 190 yards of total offense.
State received the opening kickoff with Adrian Marcus catching the high boot for a 41-yard line starting point. Relf went to work quickly, hitting WR Arceto Clark for one first down across midfield. Bumphis lined up at quarterback the next snap and kept it himself, running literally from one sideline and then the other for a net gain of 24 yards. On third down Relf found WR Chris Smith at the 11-yard line for another first down, and after Ballard muscled to the four Relf rolled rightward to draw attention while Bumphis slid uncovered into the end zone for an easy touchdown catch at 11:51.
Alcorn State's initial turn began at their 14-yard line and went backwards as on third down CB Corey Broomfield blitzed for a sack of Brandon Bridge back at the 11. Bumphis fielded the short punt just across the midfield stripe and gave MSU possession on the Brave 43.
One throw to and sideline scamper by Bumphis made it the 28-yard line. On 4th-and-2 though State handed off to TB LaDarius Perkins only to have the lightweight back go down inches short of the marker. So the Braves began on their 18 this time, and with Bridge scrambling for eight yards netted the first down. Then another as on 3rd-and-10 Jacques Nash pulled in a pass at the 46.
But on the next third down State rushed seven and hurried Bridge into incompletion. This punt was much better, 44 yards with Bumphis stepping out on his nine-yard line.
Bumphis was first recipient of a Russell pass, too, for a quick 18-yard pickup. His next catch was negated by an illegal block downfield but Russell came right back for 20 yards to Smith for first down. The quarters changed with State on the 43, and resumed with a 16-yard throw to Berry and third-down conversion pass to Clark for 14.
With third down at the 17 Russell didn't have to throw; a straight handoff to Ballard sufficed not just for the yards but all the remaining ground to the goal line for touchdown at 12:50. FB Pat Hanrahan cleared the big hole for Ballard's first move but the runner also dragged Javoris Tribune across the line himself.
Bulldog hopes of a shutout were shortly dashed, though. On second down at his 22-yard line, Bridge let State's defense bull ahead and over run the pocket. That left a clear path outside left tackle and he took it all the way for touchdown at 12:25.
State got a free first down on 3rd-and-5 as Brave defender Jamison Knox came over WR Brandon Heavens back for interference at the 45-yard line. State didn't get any driving done though and Heath Hutchins' punt was fielded at the Brave 12.
Fortunately for State, Bridge was twice off-target because he had receivers open for big and even all-the-way gains on first and second down. The third time he never had a chance to fire as S Nickoe Whitley sacked him back at the four-yard line. Bumphis returned the hurried kick a dozen yards letting State start on the Brave 30. Relf returned and needed just two passes for a 21-7 lead.
The first was to Berry at the seven-yard line; and the next Relf threaded between two defenders to Bumphis for the touchdown at 8:43.
The margin was slashed too quickly and easily though. On 3rd-and-five Bridge got a long heave off ahead of pressure down the right sideline where CB Damein Anderson had allowed Terrance Lewis a step's lead. The receiver made the grab and had to be dragged out of bounds at the Bulldog 19-yard line. Two snaps later Bridge fired to Ryan Singleton under the crossbar; he apparently had one foot still in bounds on the catch for a touchdown at 5:40. The only ego-salving here was a missed PAT.
Berry returned the kickoff 32 yards out to State's 41. He did even better on the first-down reception, hauling in Relf's easy lob at the Brave 35 and rambling to the one-yard line. It took two blasts, first by Hanrahan and then Ballard, to make it 28-13 at 4:21.
Alcorn State wasn't rattled. Or just as accurately, Bridge wasn't rattled and State's secondary was giving his targets room to run. Johnson caught a 16-yard strike, then it was Singleton splitting the safeties for a 35-yard gainer down to MSU's 27-yard line. Bridge got banged in the process though, and on 3rd-and-9 it was LB K.J. Wright ticking a throw just enough for incompletion. So Alturo Tomayo took a swing at a 43-yard field goal and was good at 1:35.
But this meant giving Berry another return chance, and he cashed it in in-full. Starting from the three he got an initial crack courtesy of Maurice Langston; then the sealing block from Chris Hughes. Only Tamayo had a chance and Berry juked him nicely at the Brave 35-yard line before completing the touchdown return at 1:22. Alcorn State was content to trail just 35-16 at halftime despite another sad kickoff that let them have the ball at their 40.
A snap into the third quarter they were on their 45, as a ten-yard rush by Jacque Caldwell was compounded by Whitley's out of bounds hit. That was as far as this turn went as none of Bridge's three throws were close to a teammate.
Relf was on his first-down shot to Bumphis down the middle, with the receiver finally dragged down at Alcorn's 25-yard line after a 55-yard gainer. A false-start was followed by the most unusual gain of the day, when Relf was stripped in the pocket. OG Tobias Smith came up with the fumble and rumbled for a nine-yard rush. Unfortunately the good feelings from that fluke play faded fast as on 4th-and-1 Derek DePasquale missed a 33-yard field goal.
Starting from their 20 the Bulldogs made consecutive first downs on throws to Heavens, but Perkins was stuck hard by Brave Caesar Cobb and fumbled with Josh Cragin scooping and scooting. Bumphis showed he could play defense too, dragging Cragin down after a 38-yard return at State's 35.
Alcorn State got to the twenty with third down and this time Bridge had no chance as MSU's White and Jones roared through for the 8-yard sack. A 43-yard field goal had even less chance, barely reaching helmet height where Devin Jones stuffed it. But the Bulldogs gave the ball back promptly when Russell forced a throw for Heavens that Tribune easily intercepted. A blocking foul on the turn posted possession exactly on the 50-yard stripe.
Bridge found Jerry Salas for a fast 19 yards, and on second down showed amazing footwork to shed DE Sean Ferguson and two more Dogs before going out at the 20-yard line. On third down DE Pernell McPhee stuffed a draw run for loss of five leaving 4th-and-7 for the fourth quarter. With nothing to lose the Braves took the chance, only to have Wright swat Bridge's pass down.
Three Ballard runs later it was a 42-16 scoreboard. The tailback got eight, then nothing, and on the third try broke right tackle clean and clear to go on a 75-yard race with Brave Tribune not able to catch up at 13:49. Though as a tired Ballard admitted, a few more yards and he'd have been snared.
With Darius Smith now at quarterback Alcorn State managed a semi-drive aided by a facemask on State tackle Jeff Howie for one free first down, and a 16-yard Bridge toss for another. But having reached the MSU 45 the Braves couldn't convert 3rd-and-10 and punted. The Bulldogs did nothing of note this series either but after swapping punts Russell put together a solid series to cap the afternoon, covering 85 yards. He got it started with consecutive carries himself, but the big play was a 38-yard catch and go from WR Sam Williams; his first career reception. Perkins broke a carry for 30 yards down to the Brave six and got the rest of the ground on two more totes; the last at 2:40.
ASU went through the motions to run out that remaining time, engendering good feelings for folk ready to depart and party. But even the home crowd had to applaud the feats of Bridge. The freshman dazzled with arm and footwork alike for touchdowns each way, running for 77 net yards on ten rushes while hitting 13-of-24 throws for 193 yards. He did take all four sacks but those were the exceptions.
Caldwell had 26 rushing yards. Edward Johnson caught five Bridge throws for 37 yards and Singleton four balls for 66 yards. Alcorn State netted 330 total yards while State finished with 566, or three short of what the Dogs gained in the season opener against Memphis. In that win MSU also scored 49 points, and this team has notched 40+ point outputs in the same season for the first time since 2000.
Hutchins only punted twice Saturday, with a 42.0 average.