Prescott was never officially ruled out for the Alabama game, but all unofficial indications leaking out of practices were that the sophomore and six-game starter would not be able to play. It was confirmed when he came to the field in street garb, leaving three-game starter Tyler Russell, Damian Williams, and two walk-ons available.
Senior Russell, who started last week after the death of Prescott's mother kept the sophomore from practicing daily, did open. And in many respects he played well, managing the Mississippi State offense under obvious pressure against the nation's most-feared defense. He even set up the only Dog touchdown with a keeper fumbled into the end zone and recovered by RT Charles Siddoway.
Russell was also picked off once, though Mullen wasn't holding it against the passer when all-star defensive back Ha Ha Clinton-Dix came over for the catch. "A heck of a play by that kid," Mullen said. "We made a good throw, I thought we had a shot at making the play." Except the shot that counted was made on the passer, as going for a tackle Russell banged his right shoulder.
"He felt it kind of popped out a little bit. The doctors said he was OK but he didn't have a lot of strength in it. He went back in one more series and we tried to get some short throws, and he missed the short throw." Which was all Russell needed to know. "He said I don't know if I give the team the best chance to win, I don't know if I can throw a football right now. At that point we had to go with Damian."
With a true freshman, in fact, who had not played since September 21 and whose only college experience so far had been against Alcorn State and Troy. Williams performed well both times…but this was a SEC defense. An Alabama defense to be exact. But with Prescott's left arm in a sling, the younger quarterback wasn't surprised with the call.
"I knew early in the week I was going to at least get a couple of snaps. So I credit Coach Koenning and Coach Mullen for preparing me," Williams said. "I was nervous but I was prepared. So I just went in and tried to fulfill the position as best possible." Just as Russell advised the rookie…though some things can only be learned by experience. Williams certainly found out the difference between a SWAC or Sunbelt defense, and the nation's two-time scoring defense leaders.
"They were moving fast and they were big. So I just tried to make my decisions as quick as possible. The O-line and the receivers and older guys kept me composed."
There wasn't much statistically to say about Williams' three series. The only first down came when Alabama facemasked the quarterback. His 15 snaps netted a plus-five yards and none of his five throws were caught, though two on the same series ought have been. WR Jameon Lewis and WR De'Runnya Wilson, two of the surer sets of hands on the squad, both failed to finish catches of well-placed balls.
Mullen looked for the positives from the pup. "That's a great learning experience, a tough situation for that kid to step into. But he stepped in and made a couple of good throws." Of course Williams also forgot what was happening on a fourth down and under pressure threw the ball out of bounds instead of heaving in somebody's direction to maybe extend a series.
"He's got to learn, fourth down should have taken a shot," said Mullen. Still, "If we make those catches and score, it's a six-point game with three minutes to go." And with the last of State's three scholarship quarterbacks in charge.
"Tyler said just try to fulfill the position, do what I know," said Williams. "Both of them are just like my older brothers, they keep me straight and really helped prepare me as well."
Now State begins a new game week with the two veteran quarterbacks both uncertain. Mullen made it sound as if Prescott could be available, sometime. "We'll find out, he's day-to-day, that's what they tell me. He could be ready to go 100% tomorrow and hopefully he's back. Hopefully Tyler's back tomorrow, we'll see what it is with Tyler to hopefully get both guys back. But if not we'll get Damian ready and go play with Damian."
Russell, who missed three whole games with a concussion and most of two more with an ankle sprain, has completed 43-of-65 passes (66%) since returning from his first injury.
THEY COME IN PAIRS: CB Taveze Calhoun became the third Bulldog this season to pick off a pair of passes in the same SEC game. First it was FS Nickoe Whitley at Auburn; then last week CB Jamerson Love at Texas A&M. This was Calhoun's turn as he robbed A.J. McCarron twice.
In the second quarter, Calhoun's sideline interception took him out of bounds so there was no return. It was a different matter in the fourth period as Calhoun stepped in front of McCarron's deep-strike target. "I was just reading him, I was playing top-down and I saw the ball released. And I just made a good break on it."
Catching it on the far-side pylon, the corner cut all the way back to his right (the MSU sideline) and almost had a clear alley. "I thought I was going to be able to cut the corner but the guy caught me from behind," he said. That guy being running back Kenyan Drake, hitting Calhoun from behind after a 53-yard runback.
The turnovers not only gave Calhoun a two-pick night, but were his first college interceptions. "It was big for my confidence. But still hurt to lose, I would rather win than get two picks any day." At least he remembered to give Coach Geoff Collins one of his picks. "I couldn't find the second," he said. "The first one I definitely gave him the ball."
PICK (UP) SIX: As noted, State's only touchdown against Alabama will go into the account of offensive tackle Siddoway. The play would not have been special had Russell gone down after a seven-yard keeper to the Tide two or thereabouts. But the quarterback stayed upright and eventually All-American linebacker C.J. Mosely yanked it free.
Fortunately for State right tackle Siddoway was able to fall in the right place where he secured the ball sufficiently for a touchdown to be ruled, and not overturned on review. It was the first touchdown for a Bulldog blocker since the 2010 Auburn game. That time it was a Chris Relf fumble at the goal line, recovered by then-freshman guard Gabe Jackson. So now there are two Dogs on this offensive line with six points to their respective accounts.
State had three more fumbles in the game, all recovered. Both Tide fumbles were picked up by Bulldogs, linebackers Beniquez Brown and Benardrick McKinney.
TROUBLE TIME: It has happened so often as to now be taken for granted; that the Bulldogs are going to give up points just before halftime. And yes, it happened again. After Calhoun's first interception wasn't used and State punted, Alabama had 2:49 and two timeouts to expand a 3-0 lead.
They did, going 78 yards in six plays and scoring on an 18-yard touchdown toss to an overlooked tight end. The score came with 0:20 remaining and neither of the timeouts needed. This can be added to the list that is: Oklahoma State, touchdown at 2:16 before halftime; LSU field goal at 0:17, Bowling Green field goal as the clock expired, Kentucky field goal at 0:31, and Texas A&M touchdown at 0:16.
"They got the ball before the half and got that critical score before the half. And we didn't get the stop," Mullen said. Which again, has become something so frequent that none could be really surprised.
Frustrated, that's another matter. Mullen obviously is. "I wish I had a great answer for you. But when you break down the film it's a different thing every time. If it was one thing you'd say OK, we've got to go fix that.
"But we have a 50 yard run (by Alabama). Last week we went for the interception and got beat on a double-move. The week before a DB fell down. The week before we rolled the overage wrong way. It's not one thing, it's a lot of things."
MISSED, AGAIN: Though not a defensive deal, there was another troubling trend that continued. Before halftime State missed a 35-yard field goal, this one by PK Evan Sobiesk who had a 40-yarder blocked last week. Bulldog specialists now are a combined 7-of-15 on three-pointer tries, none of them by anything that would be regarded as ‘long' kicks at most college programs.
Mullen has defended his kickers so far, but his tone turned a bit this time. "You've got a short little chip-shot field goal, you've got to hit it."
PRECOCIOUS PUP: It took two months for DT Chris Jones to notch his first college sack. He must like it, too. Because a week after chasing down Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel for a 12-yard loss, the freshman got to Alabama's A.J. McCarron. This time it was worth a seven-yard loss.
And it wasn't as if the Tide offense was not accounting for the true freshman. Two blockers were assigned to Jones. "I knew the double-team was coming," he said. "Me and Ryan (Brown, DE) ran a ‘X' on the double-team and some way I came free. And seeing A.J. McCarron there, I snatched him down."
Sacks, and to a lesser extent hurries, are the stats defensive linemen are measured most by. But as Mullen pointed out earlier in the week, Jones is causing havoc to offenses without making a tackle or often getting close to a passer. His first-fall show of speed and strength opens lanes for teammates to make the plays, and they give him the credit for tying-up so much attention.
"Coach Collins is putting me in position to make plays," Jones said. "They (the staff) were just spreading me out, learning the system better, and trying to figure out all the plays. I'm learning more and the more I learn the better I can get. And, see my mistakes."
It isn't just the stat sheet or gameplans where Jones is making his impression now. On a team with some well-known seniors and proven underclassmen, suddenly it is a true frosh who the squad circles around in final warmups for the yelling and jumping and such. Jones doesn't mind this sort of spotlight. "I always felt comfortable," he said, adding though "I was kind of shy!"
But he isn't shying away from a prominent position within the squad at such an early age.
"You know, Coach Mullen has always said everybody on this team is a leader. Sometimes you're going to have to follow and sometimes you have to lead. You just have to know your moment, when to lead and when to follow."
MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: Alabama became the first MSU opponent since LSU to score on the opening possession…Mississippi State is 1-5 in games against opponents ranked #1 by Associated Press…With Prescott not playing, P Baker Swedenburg was holder on placekicks…Swedenburg also returned to punter duty after a two-game absence and averaged 41.4 yards on his five kicks with a 53-yarder…P/KO Devon Bell punted once, a 47-yarder…Northport, Ala., native Malcolm Johnson led State with six catches and 84 yards against his home-state and practically –town team…SS Kendrick Market's forced fumble was the first by a Bulldog defender since the LSU game…The crowd of 57,211 was the fourth-largest ever at Scott Field, and a 29th-straight sellout of the stadium…RB LaDarius Perkins now ranks sixth in MSU career rushing with 2,470 yards…Bulldog basketball player Tyson Cunningham sang the national anthem…Pre-game ceremonies recognized the 75th anniversary of Edam cheese production at Mississippi State.