Dual Dog Starters Working Well With Prescott

Only the coach really knows if he is making a joke. Now, the two Bulldogs involved with this unusual presentation? They are definitely having fun. "It was Coach Mullen," said Dak Prescott of who decided that two starters would be announced for one quarterbacking position. "But me and Tyler did a little something, we just figured it out ourselves."

Meaning, sophomore Prescott and senior Tyler Russell have turned the classic controversy into their own comedy team. A week after Mississippi State did not even show a quarterback in the pre-game lineup, both were presented together on screen telling the home crowd "we're your starting quarterbacks." It is a play on Coach Dan Mullen's stressed statements since September that there are two ‘starters' on this 2013 team now.

And thus far both triggermen have bought into the interesting approach. Even made it a jest, Prescott agreed.

"Exactly. I mean, it really doesn't matter which one's in there. We try to learn off each other, help each other out, make each other better and help the team win."

The team's record has been mixed admittedly since Russell returned to active duty after the opening day concussion issued by Oklahoma State. In the absence Prescott started three games; then when Russell was cleared he came off the bench against LSU.

Last week, coincidentally Homecoming on campus, it was senior Russell taking the first snap after that amusing pre-game presentation. And directing the Bulldog offense to a touchdown too. Still Prescott was shuttled-in on schedule, showing Mullen's commitment to two quarterbacks regardless of which one gets the title and near-mystical status of ‘starter.'

Going with tag-team triggermen has done some positive and even interesting things for the offense as a whole, at least in both first halves where the Bulldogs have been most productive in plays and points alike. For his part Prescott likes how this partnership is playing out…but knows more is needed with the season's second half coming up.

Thus he and Russell have used their final open-date of 2013 for an in-depth, game by game review what is working, what is not, and where improvement is practical. Yes, they do it together.

"You know, we do a good job helping each other out. I mean we've done some good things over the year, there's some things we've got to do better that we saw in the film room. That's what this week is about."

A better question for them and maybe more so the coaching staff is why things have been working well in first halves and not in third and fourth quarters? Mullen has pointed to a few things this week, most notably third-down execution on both sides of the ball and why the defense has allowed drives just before halftimes. Those, Mullen said, are "momentum crushers"…especially because the coach has also said he regards the last possession before and first series after halftime as key to final outcomes.

Still, much of that is pre-determined by coin flip and timing and such. Quarterbacking, now, that is under coaching control. Or is it? In the LSU game, Mullen and coordinator/quarterbacks coach Les Koenning had a fine script written with Prescott taking the opening series and Russell the next. Then Prescott barely broke a sweat scoring a touchdown on State's third snap so he was sent back out for another turn.

Meaning, Prescott said, writing out a pre-game script is well and good but it is also flexible. Disposable even, it sounds, if the offense comes out roaring immediately. "Exactly right. Or they (the defense) might come out in totally (something) we didn't plan for. So they go off the script. It's just some from the feel of the game, you have to get with it, stay in there and be ready for anything."

Which sounds a lot like the military axiom regarding tactics and first contact and the like. Certainly staying flexible has put points on the Scott Field scoreboard in consecutive games…or specifically by halftime. The breakdowns have been after intermission. The Bulldogs managed one third-quarter field goal against LSU with a missed kick the same period; then another missed field goal in the fourth quarter against Bowling Green.

Added-up, the Bulldogs have had ten real possessions after halftime in the past two games with three points to show for it. The closest touchdown calls were close indeed, reaching the LSU five-yard line before kicking the made three and then the Falcon eight before not kicking but trying to convert 4th-and-4.

Mullen by the way said Wednesday the decision had nothing to do with PK Devon Bell's struggles, though the sophomore is 5-of-10 this season. Nor is the coach giving up on Bell; instead the usual technical items are again being addressed to make an obviously strong leg accurate as well. "He's a pretty mentally tough kid," Mullen said. "He's done a really good job this week at practice of not worrying, about his technique, his fundamentals he's been really good at practice this week. It's just working technique, we change one little thing on his plant foot with that. And when you talk to him he's very professional about doing his job. It's not like ohhh, the world is coming to an end."

Prescott has something to say about placekicking since he, after all, has a literal hand—or two—in holding for Bell. "I've told him stay calm, hit the ball, go back to the routine you do and hit it. He's cleaning up whatever he needs to clean up and he's doing good."

Making these kicks for three would be good, but scoring six and kicking the PAT is better and the Bulldogs haven't achieved either since blowing out Troy. The time of possession after halftime has not been lopsided overall and 25:49 total. But having the ball means little unless it is put in the end zone. Fair or not, it is the quarterback shuffle which gets the focus. Prescott understands and accepts.

He also agrees with Mullen's admission that much of the second-half shuffling is by the coach's gut. So he and Russell go about their halftime business as if both were going all the way, not at all, or anything in-between.

"It's really who's got the feel of the game the most, I'd say, off of the first half. And how the game happened the first half with each quarterback in there. So we go in halftime, figure out the things we've got to fix for the second half, and however Coach Mullen feels he'll pick one."

Nor, Prescott said, does the one not calling cadence loll around the sideline until his name is called. They stay busy, usually wearing headsets tuned to the coaching channel. "I sit there and look at the defense, I know the play that's coming up so I read what I'd do, I go through it in my head just as if I was in there. And I help Tyler when he comes to the sideline, same as he does."

What Prescott is seeing more of these days, sideline or line of scrimmage or filmroom, are play-makers. The contributions of RB LaDarius Perkins and WR Jameon Lewis were expected of course, and both quarterbacks knew they could count on veterans-turned-starters Joe Morrow, Malcolm Johnson and Robert Johnson.

It is what newer Dogs are doing that adds excitement on offense. WR De'Runnya Wilson has got the most catches and comments to be sure, but now younger pups such as Fred Ross and Brandon Holloway are getting more deeply involved. "I think it's just they got an opportunity to make the plays," Prescott said. "They come in here every day and give everything they've got, and it's good to see them get rewarded."

Or even to reward their quarterback, as rookie RB Ashton Shumpert did last game. He never carried the ball but blew-up some Falcons running out of the backfield so Prescott could twice score. "I told him those are his two touchdowns, he can have them!" said the Prescott. Of course he understands the new guy would like to score the TDs himself, but that is sure to come in time.

What all these plays signal is a brighter Bulldog offensive future, and not just next year. It's easy to overlook now that Prescott got his co-starting status after Russell was hurt. It's easier to notice how many linemen have been injured through six games. A bye-week, even an expedited one in advance of next Thursday's home game with Kentucky, should have most everyone ready.

But will opponents be ready for who State starts and rotates? It's fair to say that the real Bulldog offense hasn't been entirely seen because they haven't been entirely together. Meaning, Mississippi State is still figuring out all the pieces to play with…and defenses will still be guessing when the schedule resumes.

"That's exactly right," Prescott said. "But I think we'll be pretty good when we get everybody back healthy and be ready to go."

The Bulldogs have practices today and Friday before Mullen gives them a shorter bye-week break with Saturday off.


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