Dogs Get 2010 Season Off To Ringing Start

The fans provided the requested white-out. Then the Bulldogs very nearly provided a shut-out. But then the few opposing points was about the only letdown all opening-evening as Mississippi State crushed visiting Memphis 49-7 before the fourth-largest crowd ever at Davis Wade Stadium.

A crowd of 56,032 that was able to celebrate both in style and, for the first time since 1974, with the legal aid of cowbells. Those ‘artificial noisemakers' were making plenty of legitimate decibels to celebrate those seven touchdowns Mississippi State rang up before an outmatched Tiger team avoided the blanking with just 99 seconds showing. That lone score though barely besmirched what proved State's largest margin of victory in a dozen years; as well as the most points scored in an opener since 1974.

Were that not sufficient reason for bell-ringing, the output of several underclassman pups had the home crowd ecstatic. Most notably, redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Russell. Taking turns with starter Chris Relf in the first half, the younger passer was able to run the show almost exclusively in the second and produce four touchdown passes with 256 yards. None of his passes ended up in opponents' hands, and twice Russell was able to pick up dropped exchanges and complete throws.

Not that junior Relf, making his first college start, was a struggler. Last year's backup put on a good show of his own with 116 yards and one touchdown toss. Between them the triggermen were 20-of-25 completing passes and only one, from Relf, was intercepted. Relf bounced back quickly enough from that to throw for the game's first score.

Six Dogs, all true receivers, caught those balls with sophs Brandon Heavens (five) and Chad Bumphis (four) netting 112 and 100 yards respectively. And, a pair of touchdowns each. They were the first MSU pair to post 100-yard games since 2003. Senior Leon Berry wasn't far behind with 91 yards on five grabs, a great relief after he did not catch a ball the final six games of 2009. One of his receptions produced that debut score of 2010.

If not for three yards lost by the two quarterbacks, State would have reached 200 rushing yards for a really balanced attack. Juco Vick Ballard led the list with 60 yards on seven tries but 51 of that came on a single tote for State's third touchdown. He scored again on a one-yard blast. Maybe more exciting was the 57 yards netted by redshirt LaDarius Perkins on eight rushes.

Memphis did muster some yards, albeit just 41 on the ground with a 2.0 average per rush. So the Tigers had to give their best shots in the air with a pair of passers. Starter Cannon Smith, seeing his first college action since 2008 at Miami, was 10-of-15 for 111 yards and that single score. Ryan Williams was 10-of-17 for 85 yards and a pair of picks.

Maybe the most telling total of the affair was by the Bulldog defense, which allowed the Tigers to convert on just two of 15 third-down plays. Memphis also missed a pair of first-half field goals, though they did punt the ball much better. Much more often, too.

State won the toss and deferred, letting Memphis notch their first three-and-out of the evening. Bumphis put MSU in good starting position with a 35-yard punt return, but on second down of his first college start Relf threw right into the hands of Tiger linebacker Terrance Thomas. Beginning from the Bulldog 40-yard line Memphis made nothing of the opportunity with a missed 49-yard field goal. It was their only shot at a lead.

Because on second down Relf had plenty time to see a safety biting at the wrong angle, and find Berry on the right sideline at the Tiger 40. WR Arceto Clark made sure his cohort got all the way to the end zone with a smart block at the goal line and Berry crossed untouched at 10:04. The bloodbath had begun.

When MSU's offense returned it was Russell's designated first turn. He might have bobbled an exchange but zipped it to Heavens for a 14-yard gainer. A facemask added 15 yards for first down at the MSU 46. Russell hit TE Brandon Henderson over the middle for 17 more to change sides of the field, and TB Robert Elliott burst left end for a dozen to the Tiger 25. On third-and-5 Russell was able to survey the coverage at his leisure and find Heavens behind—barely—a crowd of Tigers. One, safety Marcus Ball, might have interrupted with a better-timed jump but missed the low throw that ended up in Heavens' hands, in the end zone already at 6:11.

Down 14-0, the Tigers bought some field position with a good kickoff returned to MSU's 44. Memphis also tried another quarterback and Williams was able to hit his tight end Tanner Reher for 28 fast yards. Another throw looked to have UM on State's red zone but a holding call negated the fine throw. Memphis was soon punting from inside the 50-yard line with a good bounce down to State's two at 4:13.

With a long heave for TE Marcus Green broken-up, Russell was flushed on third down for no gain and Hutchins hung it high and long for a 48-yard punt. Memphis made nothing of the series and punted it back to the Bulldog 14, from where Relf took over and took it 18 yards on his own before the quarter turned. Perkins made his first half a good one for 27 yards, and a Tiger facemask of Relf the next play had the Dogs on UM's 37. Then the 27, before a Bulldog hold brought it back; then a sack of Relf left 3rd-and-21.

Relf found Green for 17 of those yards, spotting the ball where Sean Brauchle could miss the 38-yard field goal try at 11:32.

Williams found Jermaine McKenzie for 20 yards and first down, and Jerrell Rhodes spun off two Dog tacklers for a dozen more to the MSU 47. The drive died soon, as under a hard middle-rush Williams unloaded towards the right sideline only to have CB Maurice Langston step in front at the 40 for the interception and ten-yard return. After one first down a eight-yard sack of Relf meant State was punting it back, to the Tiger 12.

Memphis made one first down on strong running by Gregory Ray, only to have LB Chris White crush him for a loss on 3rd-and-2. Bumphis fair-caught the punt on State's 29. Relf hooked up with Green, then Clark for 18 total yards to midfield; and on 2nd-and-11 caught Memphis looking throw again. Instead his draw-handoff found the Tigers flat-footed, and with C J.C. Brignone clearing out the middle Ballard was gone untouched for 51 yards and the touchdown at 1:58.

A dribbled kickoff and missed tackles let Ray return out to the Tiger 38, and while Memphis lost five on a pre-snap foul they got a lot back as CB Johnthan Banks hit the quarterback too late. Now on State's 40-yard line the Tigers might have done some damage…if they hadn't been caught holding on a completion to State's 15. And, earned a procedure flag on third down. They managed to make up all but one of the yards, but instead of trying for fourth down attempted a field goal…that missed, leaving it a 21-0 halftime score.

State opened the new half on their 25 with Russell in charge. One first-dwon into the drive he dropped the snap, calmly picked up the carom, and found Berry for a dozen yards and first down. More completions to Clark and Berry kept the chains moving, and on first down at the 27 Russell had all sorts of time to find Heavens, again, behind single-coverage for the touchdown and 28-0 lead at 12:23.

A blocking foul on the kickoff return stuck Memphis back on the 13, and led to disaster. Williams' third-down throw into traffic was off Curtis Johnson's hands and caught by Langston. In business on the Tiger 20, Relf had a good gain going before pitching to Perkins for a 16-yard net. Relf rolled forward a yard short of the goal, which Ballard got by bouncing off right tackle at 4:45 for the 35-0 margin.

It was Russell's shift next and while his first throw wasn't caught, it was due to interference for a spot-foul at the MSU 43. The second throw was caught; by Bumphis at the Tiger 30, crossing left-to-right and far enough from both coverers that all he had to do was dive at the right pylon for the touchdown at 6:57.

Langston should have gotten a third pick as another Williams throw was tipped upwards. Then it was freshman S Dennis Thames' turn to let a pick go off his hands, on third down. Starting at the 17, Russell converted a 3rd-and-10 as his under-throw was read rightly by Heavens who came back for the ball and catch at the 45. The drive stopped there but it just gave Hutchins room to stretch the punting leg and have his ball fair-caught at the five.

Which meant Memphis shortly was punting from their end zone. A good bounce stretched the low-liner into 56 yards, though, and the quarters changed with State on the 44-yard line and second down. A throw to Henderson moved the chains to the UM47, and Russell went to favored target Heavens for 22 more yards. On third down Bumphis lost everyone again except the attention of his quarterback for the easy catch at the five and jog across the goal at 11:23.

It was State's last point of the night, though the lingering fans didn't mind watching backup Bulldogs take turns on both sides of the ball…and continue the pounding with another three-and-through for Memphis. Their only positive possession began at 5:18 against a scratch defense with Smith throwing on seven of the eight snaps. The big ones were a 22-yard toss to Ray, then finding Marcus Rucker on 3rd-and-8 for a 27-yard touchdown.

Former Bulldog linebacker Jamon Hughes made his return to Starkville at least a little personally satisfying as he led Memphis with nine tackles and the only UM sack. That was of Relf, who was on the roster redshirting when Hughes started at State in 2007.

Safety Charles Mitchell had nine tackles, too, to top the home team chart. MLB White had six more with 2.5 stops for losses. Langston's two interceptions were the first of his MSU career.

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