But this might have been the most impressive outing yet, because Ballard did all his damage on just ten touches. Last year he led the SEC by averaging a rushing touchdown ever 9.8 carries; Ballard began 2011 with a ridiculous 3.3 rate.
Then there was the 16.6 average gain each touch tonight, boosted by big breakers of 46 and 66 yards in the first half. On the initial TD of his season, "They left me one on one with the safety and I beat him, it was off to the races then. I thought he was going to catch me but I walked into the end zone." That play was, as Jack Cristil would have put it, going right-to-left on your radio dial. A quarter later "It was the same play, just going the other way," said Ballard.
A darned good play indeed. So, what is it called? "Gas," he said, missing the irony until pointed out. Not so much that he poured any on Memphis, though. "Yep, I was out of breath!"
Ballard's first college touchdowns came a year ago against Memphis also, as he scored twice in the 2010 season opener. On just seven rushes at that. Even if they weren't rotating off the schedule, Tiger defenders are surely glad to see this Dog graduate.
*While Ballard got off to a good start on another record season, QB Chris Relf added to his late-career totals. Touchdown tosses in the first and second quarters gave the senior 20 for his MSU tenure, leaving Relf alone in eighth place on the MSU career list.
*His partner in the act, WR Chad Bumphis, took sole possession of 8th place in career touchdown catches with ten. Bumphis has caught touchdowns, five total, in his three season-openers.
*Bumphis' 44-yard post strike from Relf at 11:23 of the first quarter was the fastest first-score of a season by State since 1998 and an interception return-touchdown against Vanderbilt.
*For all that went well on opening night, Coach Dan Mullen had a couple of obvious sore spots on special teams. A field goal was missed, though Derek DePasquale did knock through a 28-yarder earlier. WR Jameon Lewis unwisely chose to field a pair of kicks (kickoff and punt) not just near his goal line but moving toward the sideline. Each time he went out of bounds, at the two- and one-yard lines, leaving the offense in huge holes. The first time was eased by a five-play touchdown drive at least.
Lewis also dropped a punt that Memphis recovered. Yet the redshirt frosh came back with two big touchdown plays including the biggest, a 80-yard score off the arm of QB Tyler Russell. So was it a positive or negative night overall for Lewis? "Neither," said Mullen.
"I've seen the big plays, I expect the big plays at practice. Now what he needs to do is learn how to be a good football player, not just a guy who is an athlete once he gets the ball in his hands. We need somebody who can be consistent, be productive, and field the ball when he's supposed to; hold on to it when he's supposed to. If we can get that he's a weapon out there on the field."
*Despite Lewis' lost fumble, the Bulldogs again won the overall turnover contest; recovering two Tiger fumbles and intercepting a pass. Actually there could have been a third recover; on the pick, S Nickoe Whitley had the ball dragged out of him before going down by the original intended receiver. LB Brandon Wilson first knocked another Tiger aside, then fell on the loose ball to maintain possession. Only one of the takeaways was counted though.
*There was one other noteworthy gaffe in kicking Thursday. Or rather in not-kicking. With a 24-0 lead and six minutes left to halftime, P Baker Swedenberg took the snap a little low and away, then cocked to throw. Intentionally, Mullen confirmed.
"It was a call. Not a very good one!" Because target LaDarius Perkins was in heavy traffic and lost four yards pulling in a shot-put from Swedenberg. Three plays later Memphis had their first touchdown.
Mullen made the fake-call after watching the Tiger rush team. "We thought they were going to come after it, it was their first real opportunity in the game. I think one of our guys got tangled with one of their guys; if he had rushed clean he would have run right by LaDarius. Lo and behold he's there to make the big play."
"But," Mullen added, "I've got to get after that special teams coach for doing something silly right there." Meaning himself, of course.
*Mullen was also unhappy with five first-half penalties at the line of scrimmage, all pre-snap fouls. Two came from the same source on the same opening series, including the first MSU play of the season, as OT James Carmon jumped the count. Carmon was making his first start on offense in college after one year at State and two preceding in junior college as a defensive lineman.
*The Bulldogs won the toss, something they did a lot last year; nine times to be exact. But in 2010 Mullen deferred on eight of those chances, taking the ball only against Alcorn State. This time the coach chose to receiver right away on the first chance.
*Upon arrival at the stadium, Mullen announced five Dogs were not on the travel roster for various, all unspecified, reasons. They included first-team DT and all-SEC pick Fletcher Cox; second OT Blaine Clausell, and third-teammers QB Dylan Favre, TE Malcom Johnson, LB Chris Hughes.
Mullen did not comment on whether all were suspension cases or injury-related.
Cox had played in 24 previous games with 15 starts, including eight-straight. His absence was easily the most obvious, but the junior tackle stayed in touch with teammates and called DT Devin Jones—who would take Cox's place in the starting lineup—in the afternoon. "He called to wish us well and I told him I'd make him proud," Jones said.
He did with two tackles and a forced fumble, recovered by another Jones—freshman P.J.—who was also in the rotation due to the starter staying home. And redshirt DT Kaleb Eulls moved to end as needed. "When one of us is missing of course we're going to miss him," D.Jones said. "But we still wanted to play and I really wanted to step up."
This was the second time Hughes has sat out a game for suspension. He was sidelined last year as a true freshman for the Kentucky game after UAB provided the SEC Office video of Hughes making an illegal hit from behind on the far side of a kicking play.
*For the season opener seven true freshmen made the road trip and dressed. They were QB Dak Prescott, RB Josh Robinson, S Dee Arrington, RB Derek Milton, TE Rufus Warren, and DT P.J. Jones. Of these Jones played his tackle slot, with four stops credited and a pass deflection to go with the recovered fumble. Arrington worked on special teams until late when he got in the backfield, scoring two tackles.
All told, counting true frosh, redshirts, and transfers, 23 Bulldogs made their playing debut in this year's opener. "It's good to get those guys on the field and get them broken in," Mullen said.
*Participants in the opening game were (GP-GS, *starter): *WR Chad Bumphis 1-1, RB Robert Elliott 1-0. WR Brandon Heavens 1-0, *S Charles Mitchell 1-1, S Nickoe Whitley 1-0, *S Wade Bonner 1-1, *WR Chris Smith 1-1, LB Brandon Maye 1-0, *LB Cam Lawrence 1-1, *S Johnthan Banks 1-1, *QB Chris Relf 1-1, WR Jameon Lewis 1-0, QB Tyler Russell 1-0, WR Brandon Hill 1-0, *WR Arceto Clark 1-1, S Louis Watson 1-0, *LB Matt Wells 1-1, FB Sylvester Hemphill 1-0, CB Jamerson Love 1-0, *CB Corey Broomfield 1-1, CB Damein Anderson, RB LaDarius Perkins 1-0, *RB Vick Ballard 1-1, S Jay Hughes 1-0, WR Sam Williams 1-0, *TE Marcus Green 1-1, LB Jamie Jones 1-0, FB Adrian Marcus 1-0, S Dee Arrington 1-0, P Baker Swedenburg 1-1, K Derek DePasquale 1-1, CB Marvin Bure 1-0, FB William Shumpert 1-0, LB Christian Holmes 1-0, CB Darius Slay 1-0, DB Jonathan Phillips 1-0, LB Deonte Skinner 1-0, LB Ferlando Bohanna 1-0, KO Brian Egan 1-1, DE Trevor Stigers 1-0, *C Quentin Saulsberry 1-1, DE Corvell Harrison-Gay 1-0, *LB Brandon Wilson 1-1, OT Archie Muniz 1-0, *DT Devin Jones 1-1, *OG Gabe Jackson 1-1, *OT Addison Lawrence 1-1, OC Dillon Day, ST Ben Beckwith 1-0, *OG Tobias Smith 1-1, OT Templeton Hardy 1-0, OC Sam Watts 1-0, DL Dewayne Cherrington 1-0, *OT James Carmon 1-1, OG Damien Robinson 1-0, WR Robert Johnson 1-0, SN Reed Gordon 1-1, WR Michael Carr 1-0, DT Kaleb Eulls 1-0, DT P.J. Jones 1-0, *DE Shane McCardell 1-1, *DT Josh Boyd 1-1, DT Curtis Virges 1-0, *DE Sean Ferguson 1-1.
*Players dressed out for the game but who did not play were: QB Dak Prescott, RB Josh Robinson, RB Derek Milton, OT Eric Lawson, OL Paul Thompson, ST Winston Chapman, OL Joey Trapp, TE Rufus Warren, WR Joe Morrow, K William Berg.
*PK Derek DePasquale made his own style statement, wearing shoes in a hue that could only be called ‘highlighter yellow'.