Mississippi State opens up year three of the Dan Mullen era tonight on the road traveling to the Liberty Bowl to take on Memphis.
The Bulldogs had one of the best seasons in recent memory posting a 9-4 record and capped off the year with a blowout victory over Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Tonight at 7:10 p.m. MSU begins its quest to exceed the expectations of a preseason No. 20 ranking.
Tonight will be the 44th meeting between the two schools with the Bulldogs holding a 32-11 edge in the series. State has won 11-straight in the series including seven consecutive wins at the Liberty Bowl against the Tigers. The Bulldogs are 16-6 on the road against Memphis.
It will also be the 16th time the two programs have met in the season opener making the Tigers MSU's most common opening game opponent. The Bulldogs are 13-2 in those contest including last season's 49-7 victory in Starkville. In that game Tyler Russell completed 13-of-16 passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns while Brandon Heavens and Chad Bumphis each had 100 yards receiving and a pair of scores.
In 2010 State set school record offensively for points scored, touchdowns scored, most plays, yards gained, total first downs, completion percentage and touchdown passes. The Bulldogs averaged 401.3 yards and 29 points per game. They picked up 214.8 yards on the ground per contest while passing for another 186.5.
Senior quarterback Chris Relf returns for his second season as the starter behind center. Relf completed 58.6-percent of his throws for 1,789 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also finished second on the team in rushing with 713 yards and five more scores.
Senior running back Vick Ballard also comes back after setting a single-season school record for touchdowns in his first season on campus. Ballard rushed for 968 yards and 19 touchdowns and also added another receiving score.
For the second straight year Bumphis was Mississippi State's top target through the air. The junior made 44 catches for 634 yards and five touchdowns averaging 14.4 yards a grab.
Defensively the Bulldogs lost co-coordinator Manny Diaz to Texas in the offseason as well as its top two tacklers to the NFL. In 2010 MSU surrendered 356.8 yards to their opposition allowing them 237.8 yards passing and another 119.1 rushing.
Senior Charles Mitchell is the Bulldogs leading returning tackler after making 93 stops a year ago to finish third in that category. Junior defensive tackles Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox come back after making 2.5 sacks each a year ago to also finish third on the team. Johnthan Banks, Nickoe Whitley and Corey Broomfield all made three interceptions a year ago to lead the team.
Senior Derek DePasquale returns to his kicking duties and enters the season as the most accurate kicker in school history. He made 10 of his 12 attempts with a long of 43-yards. Sophomore Baker Swedenburg will take over the punting duties while Bumphis and LaDarius Perkins will likely handle the return duties.
Memphis suffered through a miserable year in 2010 winning only one game and finishing with a 1-11 record. The Tigers only win came in a 24-17 decision over Middle Tennessee on Sept. 18 and ended the year with nine straight losses.
Head coach Larry Porter hopes to turn things around in year two. In his first game on the sidelines as a head coach against the Bulldogs last year, Porter's squad had only 196 yards on the day and turned the ball over twice.
Memphis averaged 285 yards on offense last season and 14.4 points per game. The Tigers gained 193.4 yards passing and 91.6 yards rushing per outing.
Sophomore Andy Summerlin will make his first career start for Memphis at quarterback. Summerlin missed the entire 2010 season with a shoulder injury after transferring in from Coffeyville Community College where he passed for 2,302 yards as a freshman.
Sophomore running back Jerrell Rhodes is the Tigers leading returning rusher picking up 469 yards on 116 carries in 2010 with one touchdown. Junior Marcus Rucker was the leading receiver last season with 41 catches for 704 yards and eight scores.
Memphis' defense gave up 460.7 yards surrendering 288.8 yards through the air and another 171.9 yards on the ground.
Senior defensive lineman Frank Trotter is the Tigers leading retuning tackler after making 80 stops and 16.5 tackles for loss a year ago. Senior linebacker Terrence Thomas, sophomore defensive lineman Corey Jones and senior defensive lineman Dasmine Cathey all had three sacks last season while Thomas is the only defensive player returning to record an interception.
Junior kicker Paulo Henriques made 14 of his 18 attempts in 2010 with a long of 47 yards. Australian sophomore punter Tom Hornsey also returns after averaging 42.7 yards per punt.
Senior Billy Foster averaged 19 yards per kickoff return last year while the Tigers entire punt return unit only returned 11 punts for five yards.
Tonight's game will be televised on FSN with Ron Thulin, JC Pearson and Jeremy Bloom on the call.