By LEE ADAMS
MEMPHIS – It may have been opening night for the Mississippi State football team Thursday, but the Bulldogs looked in mid-season form offensively.
No. 20 MSU broke its single-game total offense record in front 33,990 fans in Memphis' Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium with 645 yards and dominated Memphis 59-14.
The original record for the Bulldogs was 596 yards set in 1978 against Florida State.
"Very happy we came out with a good win," said MSU head coach Dan Mullen. "I'm happy we were balanced on offense. We had a lot of big plays and that's great, but we were four of 12 on third downs and and we have to be cleaner on that."
The Bulldogs offense was led by senior tailback Vick Ballard, who ran for 166 on 10 carries and three touchdowns.
"He's a tough physical football player who makes things happen," said Mullen about Ballard. "He's one of the cogs on offense."
MSU was able to overcome the distraction of having five players suspended for the game. It was announced that Blaine Clausell, Fletcher Cox, Dylan Favre, Chris Hughes and Malcolm Johnson were not available for various violation of team rules. All are expected to return for the Southeastern Conference opener against Auburn on Sept. 10.
The Bulldogs put up 31 points in the first half against Memphis, which is something they have done in the last two games, and scored 17 points in the first quarter, which is most first quarter points in a season opener since 1990.
After unsuccessful first drive, MSU scored on its next three drives. On their second drive of the game, the Bulldogs needed only two plays on their second drive to find the end zone as Chris Relf hit Chad Bumphis for 44 yard touchdown with 11:23 left in the first quarter.
Ballard showed the hometown Tigers his speed on State's third drive of the game with a 46-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 14-0.
On the ensuing drive, Memphis coughed up the football and true freshman P.J. Jones came up with the ball to give the Bulldogs possession. The Bulldog offense drove down to the 14-yard line but the drive stalled and Derek DePasquale came on and kicked a 28-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-0.
As the game moved into the second quarter, the Bulldogs were threatening and quickly scored as Relf connected with Arceto Clark for a 35-yard touchdown.
Memphis got on the board late in the second quarter on a 21-yard Billy Foster touchdown run with 3:19 left in the half.
MSU's lead was cut down to 24-7, but that didn't last long as Ballard broke a 66-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to give the Bulldogs a 31-7 lead with 1:51 remaining in the second.
Nickoe Whitley ended the Tigers next drive with an interception. After the interception, Relf hooked up with Robert Elliott twice for 20 yards and the run down to the 30-yard line set up a field goal attempt. DePasquale's 47-yard field goal attempt went wide left, but MSU held a 31-7 lead at the break.
At the end of the first half, Ballard had 164 rushing yards on eight carries for two touchdowns and the MSU offense had 405 total yards, which is most in the half since before 1990. Relf finished the first half 9-of-16 with 175 yards and two touchdowns, and Clark broke his career receiving yard mark in the first half with 72 yards.
The third quarter got off to a slow start but Ballard found the end zone again from 1 yard out extending MSU's lead to 38-7.
Jameon Lewis got in on the scoring as time expired in the third quarter as he ran in from 19 yards out to give State a 45-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.
Memphis got a late score courtesy of Taylor Reed hitting Marcus Rucker in the back corner of the end zone to cut State's lead to 45-14. However, MSU answered on the ensuing drive as Tyler Russell hit Lewis for an 80-yard touchdown pass to put the Bulldogs up 52-14 with 11:20 remaining.
Russell put the icing on the cake with a 26-yard touchdown run giving to complete the scoring for the Bulldogs.
The win was the fifth largest road win in school history and is the largest road win for MSU since 1936. Also, Thursday night's season opening win marks the first time since 1914 that the Bulldogs have scored 50 plus points in back-to-back games.
State will be on the road again in week two as it travels to Auburn to take on the defending national champion Tigers.