The long offseason for the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Memphis Tigers ends today
No. 20 Mississippi State, coming off a 9-4 season, opens the 2011 season tonight in Memphis against the Tigers.
The two are no strangers in season openers as they faced each other 15 times on opening day. State has won 13 of those including last years 49-7 win at Davis Wade Stadium.
"I'm fired up," said head coach Dan Mullen, who is undefeated in season openers as a head coach. "We've been with the guys practicing this for eight or nine months preparing this team for the regular season. I'm excited and hopefully we can be very proud of the effort these guys go out there and play with (tonight)."
Mullen isn't the only coach excited for the season opener as second-year Memphis head coach Larry Porter is ready to get the season underway.
"We're looking forward to our opener with Mississippi State," said Porter. "I think they have a strong team and they're looking forward to coming to Memphis from what I read."
Memphis is playing host to Bulldogs for the first time since 2002 and kickoff in the Liberty Bowl is set for 7 p.m. At that time, the Bulldogs will try to continue their non-conference winning streak which is currently at five. To continue that streak, MSU has been hard at work preparing for the Tigers, but first game preparations is different from the rest of the season as there isn't as much external focus on the Tigers as there is internal.
"When you get into the first game the focus has to be on you," said Mullen. "Our focus when going into these opening games has to be are we taking care of the football, are we scoring in the red zone when we have the opportunity to do it, do we have 11 guys running to the football not giving up a big play and are we creating turnovers? Those are things that you control."
Some other things the Bulldogs will try to control is focusing on their assignments and not having penalties.
"Those are things that can doom you in a first game," Mullen said.
The non-conference winning streak isn't the only one the Bulldogs are trying to uphold in week one as they have won the last 11 meetings against Memphis.
As they go for win number 12, MSU as a lot of players coming back from last year's team, but there will be some differences.
"Our personality as a team will be different this year," said Mullen. "We have different people even though we have a lot returning starters. It will be a different personality and I view Memphis the same way. Their personality I'm sure will have similarities to last year but they'll be a lot of differences as well."
Some of the similarities Memphis will have is on its defensive line with Dontari Poe and Frank Trotter returning.
"They have some quality players," said Mullen. "Their two starters coming back did a good job against us last year. They were stout guys and I think both are SEC talented players so we're going to have our hands full with those guys right off the bat."
Like Mullen, Porter has noticed the interior of the defensive line of the Bulldogs led by Josh Boyd and Fletcher Cox.
"Defensively, they're anchored by their interior guys, Boyd and Cox," said Porter. "Both of those guys are all-star candidates in my opinion. They played very well last year and were staples inside."
Memphis, who had a disappointing 1-11 season in 2010 is looking to improve this season and they are hoping to show the world how they've changed from last season against the Bulldogs.
"They're a team that right now has a lot of momentum coming off their bowl victory and I think they've established a lot of confidence within their program," said Porter. "Our players are very excited about this opportunity to show our growth and our improvement as a team and as a program."
Leading State's offensive attack in the season opener will be senior quarterback Chris Relf, who has caught the attention of Porter.
"He has made tremendous progress not just as an athlete but as a total quarterback," said Porter about Relf. "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."