Note-Booking The Mississippi State Victory

MOBILE – A year ago at this time they were making history. Now? The ‘touchdown trifecta’ has become almost a Mississippi State routine. Almost.

QB Dak Prescott duplicated the Mississippi State offense’s signature achievement of 2013 by scoring touchdowns three ways at South Alabama. Prescott first threw for a touchdown today, finding TE Malcolm Johnson for a 15-yard score in the opening quarter. Then in the second period he got the unique TD in the trifecta, as he caught a throwback pass from WR Jameon Lewis and ran it in 24 yards. In the third quarter he completed the cycle by running a 40-yard touchdown.

In the process Prescott repeated what he himself had done in last year’s Troy game with a rushing, receiving, and passing touchdown in the same game. Although in that contest there was something really remarkable: Lewis also touched the trifecta with a reverse-run score; throwing Prescott the touchdown, and then catching a pass in the end zone from his quarterback.

So was the second time around any more exciting? “I mean, it’s cool,” said cool character Prescott.

”But it’s great teammates and great athletes all around me. Somebody has got to throw it to me, Jameon made a good pass and the line set up its blocks perfect. They cleared it out. It’s easy to do that when you have the guys I have.”

Easy for him to say. But the key part of the cycle, the throw-back, isn’t something to be used just any time even if it’s a prime part of State’s playbook. “And I’ve been waiting for the right moment to call it,” Prescott said. “We said we might call it that drive, the play came in and it worked out perfectly.” South Alabama not only wasn’t ready defensively, they might have been a bit stressed having just seen State go on a 72-yard drive for the 14-3 lead.

At the same time, his touchdown toss made former prep quarterback Lewis 4-of-4 in those throw-back plays; all for touchdowns against Troy, Kentucky, Texas A&M, and now South Alabama. All of which has to send his ‘quarterback rating’ statistic off the career-charts.

ELIGIBLE RECEIVER, BRUISING BLOCKER: Mississippi State’s first touchdown was scored by TE Malcolm Johnson as he turned a Prescott pass into a 15-yard play, after brushing off his would-be coverage near the goal line. That was infinitely less contact than Johnson enjoyed the previous play.

With 3rd-and-5 at the Bulldog 46, instead of running Prescott stayed in the pocket while the Jaguars blitzed. Prescott immediately went to his ‘hot’ option as RB Josh Robinson had drifted out to the left flat. A defender was between passer and catcher and Prescott had to hang the ball just a bit. Then Robinson struggled to secure the throw anyway, fortunately batting it ahead where he could get the grasp and take off. A first down was assured, but downfield Johnson wiped-out a would-be tackler.

This let Robison reach the 15-yard line, where Coach Dan Mullen ordered a hurried shot for the tight end—Johnson—going down the left hashes. “They brought pressure with no safety deep,” Prescott said. “Just the middle of the field was open and we had Malcolm on the post route. I put some air under it and let him run under the ball one-on-one with the guy.”

It was Johnson’s ninth career touchdown, and 55th career reception.

POUND THE GROUND: The other Johnson didn’t score anything Saturday. But Robert J. made his own solid downfield block, on Prescott’s 40-yard touchdown keeper. And R.Johnson now has 59 catches on his career.

That 40-yard scamper was the biggest single part of Prescott’s 139-yard rushing total. A week ago he ran for 111 against UAB. This is the second time in his career Prescott has recorded consecutive 100-yard rushing games.

The touchdown wasn’t going to be a run though. It was a called pass, but from the look of it Prescott decided about as soon as OC Dillon Day hiked that he was hauling this one himself. Mullen approved.

“The one thing I noticed Dak really did a great job today of was improvising outside of the offense. The long touchdown run he was looking to make a quick throw, then he pulled it and decided to run. He had some scrambles in some other situations that really kept drives alive for us of him outside the framework of the offense making plays.”

It probably helped too that unlike the first two games, State rode the starting quarterback for three full quarters and part of the fourth. Mullen has made a point of pushing QB Damian Williams’ sophomore development with early-and-often series; today the #2 had to wait until #4 quarter.

I told him middle of the third quarter just make sure you’re ready to go,” Mullen said. “And as soon as Dak got the first down, and especially because he ran, I said let’s just get Damian in there and get him his reps and see what he can do.” And by implication, not get Prescott any further contact this day as he exited around 12:00 to go.

“There’s not talk about how much I’m going to play,” Prescott said. “It just depends on how well we executed. We got that done and executed pretty well for me not to play in the fourth quarter.” At the same time, Prescott agreed, “Getting those three quarters allows me to get in a rhythm, get going. And after three quarters the defense began to slow down, things kind of came open and came easier.”

RED MEANS STOP: At times today South Alabama was giving Bulldog fans uncomfortably-comparable looks to how UAB shredded State for over 500 yards a week ago. With long-and-strong-armed passer Brandon Bridge firing bullets the Jaguars made lots of good gains and would have been even bigger if not for some outright drops.

But moving between-the-20s was one thing. Reaching the end zone was another entirely. The Jaguars got to the red zone three times with no touchdowns and just three points to show. Three other times, all in the second half, the home team got to or inside the Bulldog 35 with nothing else to show for it.

Just as Mullen wanted to see. “Red zone is huge for us for both sides of the ball. People think red zone is an offensive deal, it’s not. A defensive deal as well. We hold them to two field goal attempts and the missed one of them. Those are huge momentum plays for us to get off the field.”

MR. SMITH AGAIN: The miss was partly due to, again, DE Preston Smith. He was later credited with getting a hand on the ball, and awarded an official block.

That gives the senior two blocks of placekicks already on the season, after he stuffed a Southern Mississippi field goal that S Jay Hughes returned for a touchdown. That helped Smith earn SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week; an honor he scored a week later largely on his 21-yard return of a one-handed interception against UAB.

A three-peat? Not likely but Smith has to merit consideration. He only had two tackles credited today but both were sacks and he had another quarterback hurry. And, of course, one of those sacks forced a fumble recovered by LB Benardrick McKinney.

MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: RB Josh Robinson had the first two-rushing TD day of his Bulldog career, scoring on a two-yard vault of the goal line (and two lines of bodies below) and a 15-yard dash around left end…State started the same offensive line as the first two games, but with the guards flipped. Ben Beckwith played right guard this time and Justin Malone at left…P Devon Bell averaged 46.2 yards on six punts despite a 25-yarder in the first quarter. Two later punts rolled or one-hopped into the end zone to more than offset his earlier sliced boot. But Bell was likely prouder of two fourth-quarter punts downed on the Jaguar 12 and 11…CB Will Redmond recorded his first career interception with a second-quarter pick.

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