Mississippi State football does not back down from a challenge. As the only Southeastern Conference school opening on the opponent’s home field—Kentucky, South Carolina and Louisiana State are scheduled at neutral sites—the Bulldogs stirred up the hornet’s nest that is a more experienced University of Memphis team hellbent on improving over last season.
Maybe next weekend, Tigers.
The 2011 edition of head coach Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs ran and passed for a school-record 645 yards as Mississippi State punished Memphis from the coin toss to the end-of-game prayer, finally calling it at 59-14.
I didn’t watch this game. Day job today. So, I hit the Internet, searching to understand what happened. For that, I refer to the box score, the drive charts and the play-by-play.
In a blowout, the first half is real football, with the second half getting sloppy. Mississippi State jumped on Memphis for a 31-7 halftime lead. The Bulldogs attacked from both sides of the ball in the first two quarters. A balanced offense scored on five of eight first half possessions. The defense forced punts on five of the Tigers’ first six drives and got a takeaway with a fumble recovery in the sixth.
The action at the Liberty Bowl slowed in the second half, but Mississippi State's domination remained.
Hours before the game, the school announced the decision to suspend five players for various and unnamed rules violations.
No problem, coach Mullen said.
Mississippi State, an on-deck team in my college football rankings, makes tracks to Auburn next weekend, diving right into an SEC West division race that on paper resembles a fight card. The Bulldogs can attest to that comparison readily, as a mere five days after visiting the defending national champions, No. 10 Louisiana State comes to town for a Thursday night melee.
MSU's SEC East schedule offers no breaks this season. Mississippi State hosts division contender No. 17 South Carolina on October 15, but not before traveling to Athens to take on on-deck Georgia October 1.
Life in the Southeastern Conference is not easy. Welcoming No. 2 Alabama to Starkville November 12 and meeting No. 15 Arkansas in Little Rock the following Saturday are all the proof you need.
Seven SEC schools are listed in the first 24 slots of my rankings, the top 19 and the five on-deck teams. I’ve spent years as a writer trying to justify the existence of the automatic qualifier Big East conference. With a lineup of 12 schools that every season generates championship football, it’s getting more difficult draw an objective comparison.