STARKVILLE — The opening to the 2011 Mississippi State football season provided continued momentum toward the type of program Dan Mullen was hoping to create in Starkville.
MSU was ranked No. 20 to start the year after a 9-4 season featuring a Gator Bowl win in 2010.
Quarterback Chris Relf was back for his senior season, Vick Ballard was in the backfield, receivers Chris Smith and Arceto Clark were back and freshman Jameon Lewis provided an X-factor on offense and in the return game.
It led up to an exciting year with a trip to Memphis to start, and Mississippi State shined.
The Bulldogs pounced on the road, throwing for 336 yards and rushing for 309 more.
MSU broke a then-program record by combining for 645 yards on offense en route to a 59-14 win, and big plays were the reason why.
It started with a 44-yard pass touchdown to a wide open Chad Bumphis less than four minutes into the game. Relf gave a glimpse into how MSU was feeling heading into that game with the hands-and-shoulders dance he did on his way to celebrate with Bumphis.
Seven minutes later, Ballard took a handoff 46 yards to the house.
A 35-yard pass to Clark was followed by a 66-yard run for Ballard — who was untouched — to give State a 31-7 edge going into halftime.
Mississippi State averaged 9.3 yards per play. For context, MSU averages 5.8 yards per play in a small sample size this season.
Memphis’ proximity to Starkville made it an easy trip for State fans. Clark made that clear when he gestured to the crowd to get louder after scoring his touchdown.
Defensively, MSU was delivering one big hit after another — whether it be on Memphis quarterback Taylor Reed or receivers out on the perimeter.
State had two sacks, eight tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and an interception by Nickoe Whitley in the second quarter.
The win ranks as MSU’s fifth largest margin of victory away from home and the largest in a true road game.
It’s also the last time State has faced Memphis ahead of this weekend’s matchup.
The two programs have a rich history of facing each other with 44 prior meetings — 33 of which Mississippi State has won.
MSU and Memphis faced each other every season from 1974-2003 in large part to State’s large alumni base and desire to recruit in Memphis. Following the 2003 season, the consistency of the matchup died off as MSU faced other regional teams such as UAB, South Alabama and Southern Miss.
The 2011 State win and a 49-7 win for MSU in 2010 are the only two times the teams have faced off since then.
Memphis will come to Starkville next season before another home-and-home in 2028-2029.