Notebooking The Bulldogs' 49-0 Opening Win

A BIG HAND: Teammate Jay Hughes got to score the points. But there’d have been no touchdown return for one senior Dog if another hadn’t served up a perfect opportunity. Maybe we can give some sort of assist to Preston Smith for blocking the kick in the first place?

Or how about to primary special teams Coach Tony Knox for making a change in the placekick block team? Because, Smith explained, “I haven’t practiced kick block since I got moved to the field goal team.” That’s right, the senior defensive end has found himself switched over to protecting his own team’s attempts, not going after the other team’s kicks.

But when Southern Mississippi set up that 30-yarder in the third quarter, trying to finally put some sort of points on the Mississippi State scoreboard, there was #91 with little advance warning he said.

“No, it just kind of happened and I tried to go out and execute my assignment.” Even better, his prior experience on the block bunch had him looking for cues. The Eagles offered them. “I kind of felt it, when they were getting to snap I saw fatigue in the offensive line and felt this could be my block moment right here. I came through and got my hands in the right position to block it, and Jay picked it up and it was a touchdown from there.”

It wasn’t the only big play by Smith, though. On the first Southern Mississippi offensive series, he saw DT Kaleb Eulls deflect a pass that came right to him. It wasn’t entirely luck, by the way. Again Smith used senior smarts to be right place, right time.

“The (offensive) tackle tried to cut-block me, and when we watched film we saw when they give you a high-hat and try to cut block you it’s going to be a screen, get all the linemen out. I saw Kaleb’s hand tip the ball and it came right to me and I took it from there.” Took it 14 yards too, his return stalling at the Eagle four-yard line.

“Yeah I’m mad I didn’t get in the end zone. It would have felt so much better to score!” For that matter the offense didn’t convert the opportunity either, stuffed on 4th-and-goal. But that was ancient history by the second half with a huge Bulldog lead; all that was left was keeping a shutout, and Smith figured his block might have done the trick emotionally.

“That took their momentum of getting any type of hope of scoring again.”

COMEDY CLUB: Smith was holding forth in post-game when RB Josh Robinson arrived, found a seat on the second row of the press corps, and raised a hand to ask a question. About had Smith ever scored on offense?

“Yeah, back in my prime I played a little tight end. Like park ball when I was the same height as the other kids.” Smith has long since out-grown offense of course…though then again TE Darrion Hutcherson at 6-7, 260 certainly looks the part of a defensive end. Juco Hutcherson made his debut this game.

If Smith and Robinson had some fun, the presser got really entertaining when DT Chris Jones arrived and took a seat while waiting for Robinson to join him there to get interviewed. And then wait longer while Robinson pulled out the phone. “I’ve got to take a selfie!”

“Josh made some exceptional plays,” Jones proclaimed, and in fact the junior back had 136 total yards, rushing and receiving. He also impressed with tackle-busting talents as often Eagles tried grabbing, clutching, slapping at a back with shoulders about as wide as his height. “I use my center of gravity to an advantage,” Robinson said, all professorial-like.

In fact Jones, a noted class clown, was playing straight-man to Robinson’s stream-of-consciousness comments. And after hearing the ‘Psycho Defense’ as labeled in spring by Coach Geoff Collins complimented, Robinson just had to offer a suggestion.

”Can I add, we have an Insane Offense, too?”

REASON #241 TO LOVE Dak Prescott: Certainly a 550-yard night with an average of 7.1 gained each offensive snap had to drive Southern Mississippi’s over-matched defense insane. But QB Dak Prescott wasn’t crazy about the evening.

Yes, Prescott granted, “We did some things well we wanted to work on.” He also said that some former weaknesses—the passing game for example A—is looking like a 2014 strength. “But it’s a first game, we still have a lot of kinks to work out. But we’re headed the right way.”

Now keep in mind, amidst all the ‘kinks’ Prescott tied the program record with his four touchdown passes. And his 284 passing yards were a career high. Prescott also spread the ball around nicely among backs, tight ends, split ends, slot men, every sort of eligible receiver. And all he could do was critique himself.

Such as, “We didn’t get the ball to Jameon (Lewis) as much as we’d like to.” Lewis settled for three catches and 25 yards. Prescott was particularly tough over his unforced second-quarter interception in the end zone…and not pushing the ball across from the one-yard line after Smith’s interception. And even taking a couple of sacks.

So, “I think I did an OK job,” Prescott said. “But I’m going to work every way I can, not one particular aspect of my game that I want to get better. I don’t ever the rest of the season want to have a red zone turnover, I think that kills it, a seven-point turnaround however you look at it.”

A great big blowout win, big numbers, big plays…and the quarterback cares more about miscues. Just another reason why Dak Prescott is on his way to legendary State status. Stats, too, as he now is responsible for 35 career touchdowns, which ties Prescott for #10 on the MSU list with Rockey Felker.

While not an official category, Prescott joined a pretty exclusive club. He is just the fourth Bulldog quarterback, as the modern position is defined, to start and win a bowl game one year; then start the next season's opener and win. It had only been done before by John Bond 1981-82, Wayne Madkin in both 1999-2000 and 2000-2001; and Chris Relf in 2010-11.

CELEBRATION SEASON: In case any think Prescott is getting a bit too serious, forget it. Watching Hughes haul in his first career interception, and then later return a blocked kick for the first college touchdown, got the better of this quarterback.

“I was almost late to huddle trying to celebrate with him! But that’s awesome, he’s a leader of this team and it good coming back from getting hurt to get an interception and a touchdown, first ever.”

Actually a degree of self-control was necessary for the whole squad. Build-up to this season began about five seconds after State left the Liberty Bowl with the winner’s trophy after all. And kicking it off within an expanded and renovated stadium had fans even further frenzied.

Prescott said the key for players was keeping heads clear. “It was fun. Starkville is always pretty much the same I guess, not too much hype, but I really felt it Thursday. When they started rolling out the tents and stuff and before we went in Friday to see the students already tailgating, that turns it up.”

The re-opening of Davis Wade Stadium wasn’t as grand as planned. It rained off and on all afternoon, more on and often heavy. So the 3:30 ribbon cutting at the new north end zone entrance was called off. But by then and despite the weather the crowd was building up, and with every shower cowbells in the Junction rang a little louder.

By mid-first quarter just about all seats were taken; the rest had been bought with a 31st-straight sellout of DWS. And while ‘official’ capacity was reckoned at 61,337, the game’s attendance was announced at 61,889…naturally a campus record.

“A fantastic crowd,” Coach Dan Mullen said. “It was electric, it was loud on the field.” And, he added, “It was great to play this rivalry again.”

RE-START: A rivalry dormant since 1990 when Felker’s Bulldogs out-lasted the Eagles on Scott Field. In the decades since the Hattiesburg school pushed for a renewal and in 2009 got it with a home-and-home contract that takes State there next year. It’s easy enough right now to wonder if USM has had any second thoughts about renewal, after State scored the first shutout in the series since, ahem, 1935 when that MSU team won 27-0 in Hattiesburg.

Mullen however could see through the score and stats what second-year coach Todd Monken has going again. “You can see the passion from their fans and Todd is building a solid program. You can see the type of future that they’re going to have.”

In which case, a record crowd can be forecast when the Bulldogs make the trip next September 5, the first appearance in Hub City since 1989.

MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: Smith’s block of the field goal means two current Bulldogs have rejected a kick. DE Nelson Adams blocked an Alcorn State punt last season. Adams also got his first career sack this game… After taking over at right guard for 12 starts last season, OG Ben Beckwith drew the start at left guard for the ’14 opener… The man he replaced last season, OG Justin Malone, returned to the starting job at right guard after a 12-game injury absence… WR De’Runnya Wilson caught two touchdowns in this game, after catching three touchdowns total as a freshman… After starting one game at cornerback last season, Justin Cox started at his new ’14 position of free safety… OT Justin Senior made his first career start… Depending upon review of the official participation list, first-time players were ST Tyrell Miller, sT Boderick Oliver, PK Westin Graves, CB Jahmere Irvin-Sills, DB Brandon Wells, WR Gabe Myles, ST Bennie Braswell, LB Dezmond Harris, OG Kent Flowers, OG Jake Thomas, TE Darrion Hutcherson, TE Rashun Dixon, WR Javous Nicks… After sitting out the 2013 season, redshirted sophomore DT Nick James returned to action to begin this season… Preseason concerns about placekicking were not eased the first time out as walk-on Graves missed a 40-yarder in the second quarter… P Devon Bell averaged 39.8 yards on four punts with three of them booted inside the 20-yard line… After the Liberty Bowl romp over 2013 league champs Rice, Mississippi State has outscored CUSA teams 106-7 in eight quarters. Next weekend’s guest is another CUSA club, Alabama-Birmingham.

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