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Mississippi State falls 31-29 at Memphis

Bulldogs fall to 2-1.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mississippi State surrendered three second-half touchdowns to Memphis redshirt senior wide receiver Calvin Austin III, including a questionable 94-yard punt return, ultimately falling 31-29 to the Tigers Saturday evening at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

With the loss, the Bulldogs fall to 2-1, while the Tigers improve to 3-0.

MSU compiled 468 yards of total offense and held Memphis’ nation-leading offense to 246 yards. Sophomore quarterback Will Rogers completed 50 of 67 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns. Junior receiver Makai Polk made 11 receptions for 136 yards and one TD, while senior receiver Malik Heath added 88 yards receiving and a score on nine catches.

Memphis freshman quarterback Seth Henigan completed 16 of 28 passes for 159 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Austin finished with 105 yards receiving and two TDs on nine receptions. Redshirt freshman running back Brandon Thomas, the nation’s leading rusher, carried the ball 16 times for 83 yards rushing.

The Tigers took a 7-0 lead when redshirt senior defensive back Sanchez Blake Jr. recovered a fumble and returned it 49 yards for a score. The Bulldogs responded with a 17-play drive that ended in a 39-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Nolan McCord to make it 7-3 with 3:20 left in the first quarter.

MSU scored the only points in the second quarter, a 3-yard rushing TD by sophomore running back Dillon Johnson and a 6-yard TD catch by sophomore receiver Jaden Walley to give the Bulldogs a 17-7 lead at the halftime break.

A 21-yard TD pass from Henigan to Austin trimmed MSU’s lead to 17-14 with 6:20 left in the third quarter before a 25-yard TD pass to Austin gave the Tigers a 21-17 lead with 7:48 to play.

Then the bizarre play of the game happened. MSU punted the ball and knocked the ball back into the field of play at the goal line. As the ball laid on the field, Austin picked the ball up and sprinted 94 yards for a TD to give Memphis a 28-17 lead with 5:36 to play.

The Bulldogs cut the deficit to 28-23 with 3:03 to play when Rogers connected with Heath on a 9-yard TD pass.

Memphis redshirt junior punter Joe Doyle made a 51-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 31-23 lead with 2:02 left to play before Rogers threw a 36-yard TD pass to Polk to make it 31-29 with 1:32 left. Rogers was then stopped short of the goal line on a 2-point conversion.

It then appeared as though the Bulldogs recovered an onside kick, but it was ruled on the field that the Bulldogs touched the ball before the 10-yard limit. After a review, it was determined that the ball did travel the required 10 yards, but there was an illegal block on the play and the Tigers were able to drain the clock with kneel downs.

The Bulldogs will return home to open Southeastern Conference play against LSU on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT on ESPN.