It was a killer B’s attack at Davis-Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon.
First it was the electrifying Bumphis. Then came the new guy in Mr. Ballard and the day ended with the veteran Berry.
Mississippi State (3-2, 1-2 in Southeastern Conference) got big plays from all three of this offensive trio in its 49-16 victory over Alcorn State.
The victory gave State a winning record after the first five games for just the second time since 2001.
And the home team in maroon seemingly needed every one of those plays due to a struggling defense that gave up 16 first-half points and 330 total yards to the in-state Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
“We were flat and that’s inexcusable especially for the leaders,” MSU senior linebacker K.J. Wright said.
The Bulldogs broke out everything in its offensive arsenal including introducing the Wildcat formation with sophomore wide receiver Chad Bumphis and redshirt freshman tailback LaDarius Perkins behind center taking the snap at quarterback.
“We need to give our players more opportunities to touch the football,” Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. “When they do, some good things have happened for us.”
Bumphis ended the afternoon with a team-leading 133 yards on nine catches and totaled 190 all-purpose yards.
The first Wildcat touch for Bumphis went for 24 yards on the third play of the game after he dodged and stiff-armed several Alcorn State defenders into Braves territory.
“Any time you touch the ball you want to give yourself confidence,” Bumphis said. “That pretty much got you rolling.”
Bumphis, who said he’s been on the MSU coaching “since probably the summer” about getting the ball on a direct snap, got MSU on the scoreboard first on a 3-yard catch off a option pass from junior Chris Relf.
“When coach Mullen was at Florida he came down to Tupelo and watched me play quarterback,” Bumphis said. “He told me there was a opportunity if I played for him to do it. I’m going to stay on him about it.”
Relf had his most proficient day under center with a 11-for-15 passing for 209 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes in only three quarters of work.
Relf’s day was nearly matched on the other sideline by Alcorn State freshman quarterback Brandon Bridge. The true freshman from Canada used his dual-threat talents to the tune of 270 total yards (193 passing, 73 rushing) including a crowd-silencing 78-yard touchdown scamper for the Braves (3-1) first score of the game.
“We spent a lot of time in the film room and we saw a lot of things we could do against the defense,” Bridge said.
When the Bulldogs wanted to handle their offense in a more traditional fashion, they simply handed the ball off the junior tailback Vick Ballard. The former junior college All-American last year found the end zone three times and would be the first running back to accomplish that feat since Anthony Dixon produced the hat trick against Middle Tennessee State in 2008.
Ballard’s highlight reel moment came on his last carry of the game early in the fourth quarter as he burst through a lane and won a 75-yard sprint the goal line to give MSU a 42-16 lead.
“That run was a big one (that) kind of put the game away,” Mullen said. “I was happy to see how fast he was. It looked like he was getting caught from behind then he broke away.”
Ballard finished as one of eight MSU players to register a carry but totaled a career-high 119 yards on just eight carries.
The contest also featured the return of a lost veteran in senior receiver Leon Berry as both a receiver and one of the nation’s most dangerous kickoff returners.
After not recording a catch in any of the last three games, Berry caught three balls for 97 yards and would end any hope of a Alcorn State upset bid with a 97-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half thanks to a crushing block by freshman Chris Hughes.
By giving up so many big plays, yards and scoring opportunities to a SWAC opponent, Mississippi State’s defensive unit left Davis-Wade Stadium knowing they played only one successful scoreless half of football and will need instant improvement as a two-game road trip the next two weeks (at Houston and at Florida) looms.
“I don’t want to slight (Alcorn State) in any way because I thought they came out and outplayed us in the first half,” MSU defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “Sometimes what happens in a game like this is your goal is to dominate and then all of sudden they land a punch like that…and we did not respond.”
Mississippi State will try to remain undefeated in non-conference play next week when it travels to Houston (3-1) in a revenge factor type contest.
“The guys say last year Houston is the team that kept them from a bowl game,” Ballard said. “I’m going to try and do my part for last year’s team.”