September 2, 2011 9:42:00 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The small contingent of fans in blue made its way for the exits after 15 minutes.
What was left of the announced 33,990 at the Liberty Bowl on Thursday night were people mostly clad in maroon gear watching the No. 20 Mississippi State football team cruise to a 59-14 victory in the season opener for both teams.
"I think we''re starting to set the tone for the rest of the season," MSU senior tailback Vick Ballard said.
By the time MSU senior kicker Derek DePasquale split the uprights on a 28-yard field goal with 1 minute, 14 seconds left in the first quarter,
MSU led 17-0. Memphis had only two first downs and hadn''t crossed midfield.
"We''re not satisfied with this, and we know to win a championship we have to keep getting better fast," MSU senior quarterback Chris Relf said.
MSU (1-0) scored the most points (31) in the first half points in the 26-game head coaching career of Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs also surpassed the 32-year school record for total yards from scrimmage (645). The previous mark was 596 set in 1978 against Florida State.
MSU''s 405 yards in the first 30 minutes was the most in the past 20 years.
"I don''t want to hit a panic button because I do feel as though there is more continuity in our defense," Memphis coach Larry Porter said. "We can''t sustain the big plays we gave up. We have to put ourselves in a better position to stop that."
MSU had five scoring plays of 35 or more yards. It had seven all of last season.
"We had a lot of big plays, which is great. I love big plays and explosive plays," Mullen said. "I''m happy we''re balanced with 306 (yards) rushing and 336 (yards) passing."
The 45-point margin of victory also is the largest in the regular season on the road by a Mullen-led MSU team.
In the two-year, home-and-home series against Memphis, MSU outscored the Tigers 98-21. MSU holds a 12-game winning streak in the series. Its last loss was in 1993.
After being forced to punt on its first drive, something sophomore Baker Swedenburg only did four more times, Relf needed two more plays to find a wide open Chad Bumphis for a 44-yard strike and the first score of the 2011 season.
Bumphis, the team''s leading receiver the past two seasons, beat man-to-man press coverage for his 10th career touchdown catch, and third against Memphis.
"I just saw they were in a certain type of coverage and hit the post," Relf said. "It just depends on me reading the correct coverage and trying to open up with a big play."
Ballard found the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown scamper on his third carry. The senior, who already holds the school''s single-season touchdown record, finished with a career-high 166 yards on 10 carries.
"Vick''s a tough, physical football player that can make things happen and is one of the cogs of the offense," Mullen said. "He makes it go for us."
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer had his second-longest scoring play of his career with a 66-yard touchdown run on a play called ''Gas'' to give MSU a 31-7 halftime lead.
"It was the same play," Ballard said about both scores.
The Division I football debut of Memphis quarterback Andy Summerlin
ended after just one quarter. The 23-year-old sophomore went 3-for-5 for 25 yards and a sack. After Summerlin failed to move the offense into scoring range, he was pulled for freshman quarterback Taylor Reed.
Summerlin didn''t return until the end of the third quarter when he fumble a snap for the Tigers'' third turnover.
MSU, which forced three turnovers, surrendered points only after a pair of special team errors gave Memphis short fields. Memphis'' touchdowns came after a botched fake punt attempt by Swedenburg and a fumbled punt by redshirt freshman Jameon Lewis.
The Bulldogs allowed 338 yards even though the Tigers had the football nearly 15 minutes longer. Showcasing an inexperienced defensive front, junior Trevor Stigers had his first career sack, while freshman P.J. Jones recovered a fumble in his first college game.
"We played about 25-26 players tonight, and it was good to have that
experience in the red zone," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. "We got a lot of things to clean up, but you can always fix it when you come off a win like that."
MSU will open Southeastern Conference play next Saturday when it travels to No. 23 Auburn.