Notebooking The Bulldogs

For the record, Dak Prescott has caught a pass before. "Sometime in high school," he said. "I don't quite remember though." Seems safe to expect he will recall his first catch as a collegian a whole lot more clearly. Just in case though everyone at Scott Field will gladly help Prescott remember.

After scoring the game's first ten points, either directly off or after forced turnovers, Mississippi State had seen Troy go on a sharp touchdown drive and make it a contest for-real. In fact the Trojans were presented a gilded opportunity to take a lead as the ensuing kickoff return was stripped from Bulldog WR Jameon Lewis. Only the opportunistic presence of Richie Brown, blocking on the return team, prevented a turnover that might have changed the entire evening.

Fortunately Brown came up with the loose ball at the Bulldog 25 and after a third-down pass play of 38 yards Prescott was taking the next shotgun snap at Troy's 36 yard-line. Coming quickly after the clutch conversion, Coach Les Koenning pulled something special from the playbook—a quarterback throw-back.

"It was a play we practiced all week and it was just a good time to call it," Prescott said. Well yes, any time is a great time for trickery…if it works. This Prescott knew, so in the huddle "I told them everything better go the right way! I got excited and everybody already knew the deal, it just worked out the way we wanted it to."

"Because Prescott threw, parallel to the line of scrimmage, to Lewis who started left, froze and took his time setting feet for a throw back to the right side. "Everybody did a good job, Jameon sold it , the offensive line pulled out and blocked well," Prescott said. To be fair the throw was a little low, which will cause some mid-week teasing of the former high school quarterback Lewis. Prescott still had both time and protection to get two hands under the ball for a clean catch and turn upfield with all Trojans sealed-off by the wall of blockers. The touchdown left Troy obviously stunned and everyone on State's sideline, as well as in the grandstands, electrified.

Mullen downplayed post-game suggestions that State had ‘opened up the playbook' for this game. "I don't know that we did, maybe we did. We haven't run the throw-back pass to the quarterback yet before. That was fun!" Mostly because it worked. Mullen's teams have tried some gadget stuff in previous years, such as occasional reverse-passes or once a halfback pass, with next to nothing to show for them.

This worked far better, for a touchdown obviously. "And I love running fun plays," Mullen said. "I've probably gotten too uptight maybe sometimes, we've got to have some fun and run some fun plays sometimes."

TRIPLE THREATS: It's always fun when things work of course. And in 2013 Mullen is more confident giving athletes capable of making fun stuff work have their chances.

(Edited to add:) What Prescott, and Lewis as well, did with a run, throw, and catch for touchdown was not a first individually. In the 1978 Florida State game halfback James 'Yogi' Jones rushed for two scores, caught a pair of touchdowns, and turned a halfback option pitch from Dave Marler into a touchdown throw to James Otis Doss. It may well have happened previously but stat sheets from the 1950s and back aren't available.

Lewis also ran, caught, and threw for a touchdown against this Trojan team. What may well be truly historic then is that both these Dogs did the three-way scoring act in the same game. And Lewis has an edge on his quarterback teammate, career-wise. Counting his 100-yard touchdown return in the '12 Egg Bowl he has scored in four possible ways. Just as it turns out Jones did as he had a kickoff return for touchdown in 1979.

During the week Mullen talked about the need for State to take more and better advantage of playmakers. Specifically, to make the ‘explosive' plays seen against Troy. "Jameon is a guy we wanted to get the ball to," said Mullen afterwards. "(Brandon) Holloway, Josh Robinson. There are other guys that are great receivers that are tough one-on-one matchups but when you get guys in the open field…"

The only disappointment in Mullen's mind was a modest evening from starting RB LaDarius Perkins with 23 rushing yards and one catch, for nine yards. "We didn't get Perk in the open field as much, he kind of tweaked his ankle a little bit and at that point we sat him. I still want to get him in the open field, but we've got a lot of football ahead of us to do that."

Now, whether those play-makers get to throw a pass, well…

WAITING GAME: Speaking of passers, Mississippi State's record-setter in most throwing categories will not toss a live ball in September. QB Tyler Russell was medically sidelined for the Alcorn State and Auburn games after his August 31 concussion. He was however given the doctor's go-ahead for contact on Thursday, officials reported.

Tyler was cleared late in the week," Mullen said. "So he was actually cleared to play tonight. But not until late in the week, at that point Dak had basically taken all the one-reps. And Tyler had gotten some reps rotating in with the twos, he'd never taken a rep against the good defense because he hadn't been cleared."

So State's staff went with Prescott for a third college start, and things played out very well indeed. There was halftime buzz, with the score 45-7, whether Russell would get worked back into action at last, in a game under clear control. But he didn't play at all; true freshman Damian Williams took over mid-third quarter and completed the game.

That makes some sense since, redshirt now burned, Williams needs all the experience he can get in case of extreme need later in the year. Also, with an open date ahead Russell has that much more time to recover from the two hits-to-helmet suffered from Oklahoma State. However this surely signals two weeks of talk about who State will start when the season resumes, against LSU at Scott Field. Does Mullen stay with the hot quarterback of the moment, or call on the older hand despite a missed month of play?

In a comment sure to fan, so to speak, discussions, Mullen was blunt even by his standards. "Tyler is our starting quarterback. We plan on Tyler being the starter against LSU moving forward."

SECOND TIME AROUND: Memories of last season's nailbiter in Troy were enough to make a Dog nervous. But when Auburn turned so many short passes into big gains off broken or missed tackles, the area of defensive stress this week was obvious.

The Bulldog defense came up with all the right answers. Against an offense which tears off yards and puts up points with eerie ease, State came close to an amazing shutout. And it was the Trojan air game getting grounded, as NCAA-leading passer Corey Robinson managed just 105 yards—a career low—on 15-of-25 throwing. Well, he did complete one other ball…to a Bulldog. And CB Jamerson Love turned it into a 70-yard touchdown.

Love, who has been battling a sore leg since opening day, was 110% speed on this pick-six. What made it work first though was a clever defensive look from the secondary that Robinson didn't get time to read.

"It was all in the disguise," Love said. " And getting after the quarterback, being in his face. I don't think he really liked man to man and the d-line really helped us out getting pressure and making him get the ball out fast."

Even when Robinson did get the ball out ahead of pressure results were his worst as a Trojan. Dog defenders got there for tackles in all but a couple of cases, including the first-quarter touchdown on a five-yard slant nearly impossible to cover. Yards after catches were just about nil this time. And it was quite telling when midway of the third quarter Troy essentially waved the white flag, pulling Robinson for the rest of the game.

"It was very important, because last week a lot of those tackles we didn't make were big plays," said Love. "We just had to rally to the ball and tackle and make plays."

Love's pick-six was the first by a Bulldog since the '12 opening game against Jackson State when Darius Slay and LB Matt Wells both ran back interceptions for touchdowns.

JUICED: Wells was nearly involved in another defensive score Saturday. At least he thought his forced fumble should have produced points. Troy was responding to State's interception touchdown with a smart offensive drive, from their 25 to the Bulldog six-yard line. After a first-down incomplete, Wells and DT Chris Jones combined for a one-yard loss tackle.

So on third down running quarterback Deon Anthony stayed back in the gun to pass. He never got the chance as Wells came in hard on to catch Anthony's arm and rattle the ball free around the ten-yard line.

"I didn't know where the ball was," Wells said. Turned out, LB Benardrick McKinney had found it. Though, "Actually I thought it was a dead play!" McKinney admitted. "I looked around and heard the crowd and I just took off!"

"I turned around and saw him with it, I was thinking break the tackle and run," Wells said. Then looking at his teammate at the same interview table, "And I got you the lead block!" But McKinney's late start meant he was caught at the Bulldog 36. Still the offense, finally getting on the field, went on a drive good for a field goal.

Thus State's first ten points came on two turnovers. And the takeaways mean the Dog defense, which didn't force or find a turnover in the opening game, have created eight in the last three contests. It's exactly the sort of ‘mayhem' coordinator Geoff Collins expects, and means that chart of ‘Juice Points' needs some serious updating Sunday.

NOTHING TO KICK ABOUT: Their first two series ended on takeaways, the third on a touchdown, and the fourth on downs; on a fake punt actually that State picked up on just in time for a turnover in everything but the official statistical sense. After that, Troy's seven other turns ended on punts.

By absolute utter contrast, Bulldog punter Baker Swedenburg had an easy day. He never had to kick a football, the first punt-less game of his State career. The last time a Dog team went through a game without kicking it away was in 2009, against Georgia Tech at Scott Field. That was a somewhat different case as State series ended in scores or turnovers or downs. Interestingly, Mullen had forgotten about that one when he said "I don't think we've ever had it happen here before."

Regardless this was the ideal, to Mullen. "It was a great job!" he said of Swedenburg's day. "The best thing that can ever happen. I always wish our punter, before the game I say I just hope you don't play!" For the record Swedenburg did play, holding for placekicks.

BAD DOG: Another MSU regular had a limited game as well, for other reason. Junior OC Dillon Day was replaced in the starting lineup with what was later announced as suspension for when he intentionally trod on an Auburn player last week and flagged.

"He was suspended for the first half for the personal foul he had from the previous game," Mullen said. "I didn't think that represented what our football program is about, that play, so he was suspended for the first half. We did that, and we notified the league and they said they were happy with what we did and our actions on him. That just wasn't acceptable."

Day did take the field for a third quarter series. Otherwise, senior Dylan Holley took care of the hiking. Prescott is a fan of his fellow Louisianan Day, but did not notice any drop-off with Holley over the ball. "He did a great job. He did exactly what he needed to and we didn't miss a beat out there."

MSU-ELLANEOUS: State's 45 first-half points was the second-highest such output in program history, since 1946 with 49 points against Murray State…The Bulldog offense converted 8 of 12 third-downs, after converting only seven combined in the first three games…Dan Mullen is now 16-3 in non-conference games, and 16-1 against teams not in AQ conferences at the time with the lone loss in 2009 to Houston…A crowd of 55,096 was announced, as State was able to sell-out Davis Wade Stadium for a 25th-consecutive home game.

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