Happy? Try ecstatic. From Louisiana boy Prescott, to a host of Mississippi-born Bulldogs who grew up hearing about LSU’s stranglehold on Bulldog teams, to Coach Dan Mullen himself, the post-game grins told the story as clearly as the scoreboard. So wildly thrilled, absolutely.
Shocked? Absolutely not.
”Coming in here our guys really expected to win,” Mullen said. “To the guys in the locker room, I don’t know that this is really a big upset. Obviously in the national stage it is, but I think our guys really believed if we did our job and made plays we could win the game. And we were able to do that.”
The claimed confidence would have surprised most during game week. LSU (3-1, 0-1 SEC) will certainly regard the home loss as an upset, especially since it was the first time a Bulldog team has left Tiger Stadium with a win since 1991. Or for that matter, with Mississippi State’s (4-0, 1-0 SEC) first success in the series since 1999.
Yet Mullen didn’t approach this one as a case odds eventually rolling State’s way. The Bulldogs earned this one the hard and impressive way, and most surprising too in outside opinion. They beat the big, physical, fast Tigers at their own game, and on their own field with most of the 102,000-plus witnesses against them.
Again, no surprise to State. “We absolutely dominated them up-front,” said OG Ben Beckwith. “Nothing against those guys, they’re a good group. But it was our day. We wanted to set a tone up front and I think we did it all day.” And on both sides of the ball, too.
The domination, offense and defense, lasted three full quarters with a 34-10 margin. Only when State relaxed did the Tigers make a real run at preserving their record and ranking. They scored touchdowns at 12:34, 1:55, and then 1:27 to nearly un-seal the deal. RB Nick Griffin recovered the last LSU on-sides kick and State made the home team use their last two timeouts before punting.
And the remaining 20 ticks were enough to keep it tense, as LSU’s Brandon Harris threw and ran for two fast first downs. With 0:05 left Harris heaved for the end zone pack, with Bulldog CB Will Redmond intercepting at the one-yard line.
“Weird stuff certainly does happen here on a Saturday night!” quipped Mullen before taking blame for letting off the gas too early. “We had to play for four quarters, as it turns out every second of those four quarters. It could have turned the other way for us.”
Things didn’t because Prescott & Company put together a near-historic offensive evening. The 570 net yards were the sixth-most in MSU history, in or out of conference. Against a brutal Bengal defense, the Dogs managed 7.8 yards each snap. They also erased previous issues with red-zone offense by scoring four times out of five trips, which included a pair of timely field goals from struggling PK Evan Sobiesk.
But those came after State had stung LSU for a 14-0 lead that the Tigers never really rallied from. Prescott had spent extra evening hours all week in scouting, and it showed. “I pretty much knew everything they were coming with before the snap of the ball, so it paid off.” Prescott rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown on perhaps the game’s key juncture, with a 56-yard keeper after LSU had turned a Prescott fumble into a touchdown return to start the second half.
Instead of rattling, “I told the sideline I would respond. The offensive line did what they needed to and we came back.” Because after his long scoring run, when State got the ball back Prescott showed his smarts in the air. Scrambling right out of the pocket he reversed field and found open space sealed by OG Justin Malone. Prescott could have run for first down and LSU’s secondary roared up…only to leave WR Jameon Lewis alone at the 35-yard line. “I knew what they had back there in coverage,” Prescott said. “I knew I had time to do a little extra and Jameon made it look good.”
With TE Malcolm Johnson clearing out the last Tiger tackler Lewis was gone for a 74-yard touchdown and 31-10 lead. That, with Sobiek’s second field goal at 14:49 of quarter four, proved enough. Just enough.
Prescott made his first start in the home state a great one. He was 15-of-24 passing for 268 yards and two touchdowns, including the nine-yard throw to WR DeRunnya Wilson on State’s first series. The junior finished with 373 total yards and three touchdowns, against the school that didn’t offer him until too late in the 2011 recruiting process.
”There’s nothing like coming back home,” Prescott said. RB Josh Robinson could have said the same. He celebrated with a career rushing day of 197 yards on 16 rushes, and if given just one more chance would have broken the 200-yard mark.
“I had the mindset I had to take over the game,” Robinson said. “I had to have a great homecoming, you know? I came back to my home state so I had to do what I had to do.” He did it not by using outside speed; instead the Bulldog’s bowling ball back crashed the line, dragged Tiger tacklers for extra gains and finally broke big carries. The longest, a 66-yard burst to set up the first Sobiesk kick for the 17-0 second quarter lead.
The Bulldogs ground out an eye-opening 302 rushing yards against a Tiger defense that in three previous games had allowed just 334 total. By complete contrast a LSU team that lives to pound the ball ran into walls. The Tigers netted just 89 rushing yards, less than two Dog individuals, on 36 attempts. The tag-team attack of Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette was held to 30 and 38 yards respectively.
“We knew we had to lay sound football, to go out and execute our assignment,” DE Preston Smith said. So quarterback Anthony Jennings was forced to assume more responsibility than the sophomore was ready for against a dialed-in Dog defense. He ended up 13-of-26 passing for 157 yards and no scores, sacked three times.
The biggest play for both sides arguably was a Jennings run, or lack thereof. Trailing 7-0, the Tigers got moving on a gadget play as wideout Terrance Magee threw an option pass to cohort Malachi Dupre that went 44 yards to the Bulldog 19. Only a saving stop by S Kivon Coman kept him out of the end zone, which was where Redmond got flagged for pass interference on Travin Dural.
With first-and-goal, LSU smashed at the middle four times. Fournette had the best shot on second down but was stopped just short by Smith and LB Richie Brown. Hilliard was knocked back for a loss on third down, and Coach Les Miles naturally opted to go for the tie rather than three. Jennings tried a quick step-right to start pursuit before diving ahead. Brown caught him flush for the stop and MLB Benardrick McKinney finished Jennings off.
That still left State on their two-yard line, but Prescott went to Wilson for a 26-yard strike to begin a drive and another 44-yard connection to nearly finish it. It fell to Robinson to shoot through center for the last three yards and touchdown before the quarter ended. Three periods remained, and LSU would have its shots. Just too few and too late as Harris took over from the struggling Jennings to throw two fourth-quarter touchdowns. He was 6-of-9 for 140 yards, as well as the concluding pick.
Mullen knew had he left his starting line in for a few more fourth-quarter series the late dramatics wouldn’t have mattered, maybe not even happened at all. “Fortunately we were able to get that win against as everybody knows one of the best teams in the country, in one of the hardest environments to play in in the country. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Those guys were pretty Dog-goned proud of themselves. Especially seniors who’d endured their part in the long losing streak. ‘I was just talking to Dillon (Day), my roommate,” Beckwith said. “This is my fifth year playing them since I redshirted, my last game ever to play in Death Valley. We came out with a victory and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I’ll tell my kids, tell my grandkids, I’ll tell everybody about this until I get done. It’s just awesome."