Thursday night Larry Porter will begin his second year on the sidelines as the head coach at Memphis.
Porter's rookie campaign did not go as planned as the Tigers went just 1-11 in 2010. Now he hopes to rebound for his sophomore season but faces a stiff task in the opener against No. 20 Mississippi State.
"We're looking forward to our opener with Mississippi State, a team that right now has a lot of momentum coming off their bowl victory," Porter said. "As you follow them thus far throughout fall camp, I think they've established a lot of confidence within their program. Obviously they're a top-25 opponent, which is a great measuring stick of the improvement of our program and our team. Our players are very excited about this opportunity to show our growth and our improvement as a team and as a program."
The two teams also met last year's opener with the Bulldogs prevailing 49-7 in Starkville. MSU's offense rolled up 372 yards in that contest led by backup quarterback Tyler Russell, who completed 13-of-16 passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns.
"If you look at them across the board, offensively they're led by their quarterback Chris Relf, a young man who has made tremendous progress not just as an athlete but as a total quarterback," Porter said. "I think now he can hurt you just as much with his arm as he can with his legs. He's a very powerful and strong young man. He's in company with wide receiver Chad Bumphis and running back Vick Ballard, a big, strong, powerful guy who's been productive for them throughout the past. Then they have a young man named Quentin Saulsberry who's a center but who has actually played center, guard and tackle, so he's a veteran on the offensive line. Those are the guys I think offensively serve as leaders."
The Bulldogs also had a solid outing defensively against Memphis in 2010. The Tigers were limited to only 41 rushing yards and turned the ball over twice on interceptions by Maurice Langston.
State has seven defensive starters returning and Porter has been impressed with what he has seen from several of the Bulldogs' veterans.
"Defensively, they're anchored by their interior guys, Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox," Porter said. "Both of those guys are all-star candidates in my opinion. They played very well last year and were staples inside. Charles Mitchell at safety is another young man who's productive for them. I think he leads the secondary."
Memphis will be breaking in a new quarterback Thursday. Porter announced that sophomore Andy Summerlin would be the starter under center last Friday. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder after played one season at Coffeyville Community College in 2009 passing for a school record 2,302 yards but missed last year due to a shoulder injury.
"I think Andy has emerged as a leader well before now, throughout the course of spring, summer and into fall camp," Porter said. "His leadership presence has always been visible and very strong amongst his teammates on both sides of the ball. Being named the starting quarterback probably put some things at ease for him, but he's been the same guy. He's very vocal, and he's been the leader that we need him to be regardless of the situation."
Thursday's meeting between the two schools will be for the 44th time. The Bulldogs have won the last seven meetings over Memphis. Porter is expecting the Bulldogs to be prepared for another battle again this year.
"I think they have a strong team and they're looking forward to coming to Memphis from what I read," Porter said.
Mississippi State's last appearance at the Liberty Bowl came in 2007 when the Bulldogs won 10-3 over Central Florida. MSU last defeated the Tigers there in 2002 29-17.