“I pretty much knew everything they were coming with before the snap of the ball. So that paid off.”
Did it ever. With Prescott applying what he’d learned in coached and private preparations, he was able to direct Mississippi State to 570 yards’ worth of offense. That’s the sixth-highest output in program history and third-most ever against a SEC opponent. But not just any opponent in this case, against a LSU defense famed for its strength, speed, and performance.
Suddenly the Tigers will be spending more time watching their video to discover what went wrong. They’ll see on the whole it was what Prescott did right. And, right from the start.
“We knew we had an explosive offense. We just had to get going, get early completions, run off the ball and get our confidence going early. And we did that.”
Beginning with a six-play, 51-yard scoring series on first turn with the ball, concluding on Prescott’s nine-yard connection with WR Derunnya Wilson. That was a statement in itself; what happened on the third series was a shout-out. Though in this case it was the Dog defense giving their cohorts a shot of confidence, stuffing LSU on four rushes from the two-yard line to keep a 7-0 lead.
Prescott might have played for punting position; instead on second down he startled the Tigers with a short drop and long throw caught again by Wilson. That 26-yard play left LSU rattled as RB Josh Robinson ripped off 23 yards, then Prescott found Wilson again for 44 yards down to the Tiger three. Robinson got the rest on a rush.
It was a case of building on success at one end of the field by marching to the other. “That was big,” Prescott said. “We fed off of our defensive momentum making that fourth down stop on the goal line. For us to come back we knew we had their back, and vice-versa.”
Yet the real test was still in store, as State began the second half with a 17-3 lead…and immediately gave the Tigers a touchdown. And it was on Prescott of all people as he was held-up on a keeper and stripped for a fumble and 25-yard return.
“They made a nice little play on the ball, I should have had wo hands on it. And they did a good job picking it up and turning it around. But I told the sideline I’d respond, just trust me and have my back.” Like a real leader, Prescott delivered on his promise with what might have been the key offensive snap of the evening.
It only went for 12 yards but made all the difference as on 3rd-and-7 Coach Dan Mullen sent in a receiver-screen play. Prescott had to roll left, turn, and look for Wilson again. All that went to script but Prescott still had to ignore the two big Tigers charging him from the (now) back side and throw a catchable ball. He did, and with RT Justin Senior screening away the only potential Tiger tackler.
The raw relief for State was palpable, and worse was ahead for LSU. Because on the next third-down situation Prescott saw coverage crowding outside the ends. He called the right number: his own. Prescott found a crack and used it, stiff-armed one Tiger and juked another to the turf en route to a 56-yard touchdown tote. Then a series later on 3rd-and-7 Prescott bought time with a roll right, reverse of course to the left, and floated pass WR Jameon Lewis turned into a 74-yard touchdown play.
Again, it went back to all that extra study time. “I know what they’re doing defensively so I know what they’ve got back there in coverage. So I knew I had time to do a little extra. And the offensive line did a great job keeping them off of me, nobody touched me on that play. I rolled out and the receivers got open, and Jameon made it look good.”
To Mullen, those were premium examples of Prescott’s knack for improvisation against a LSU defense that makes free-lance life lethal for ordinary quarterbacks. Prescott is not at all ordinary.
“You’re going to put the ball in his hands to make things happen in a key moment of the game,” Mullen said. “And when we needed a play he stepped up and made the plays with his arm and his legs at key moments which were huge.”
Prescott’s numbers certainly were huge; 105 rushing yards on 22 carries against a defense which presumably knew to watch for quarterback keepers. It did LSU no good this time. The passing prowess, now that had to really surprise the home team. Prescott was 15-of-24 throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns, a brutally efficient evening against a splendid secondary that State made look, well, ordinary.
Plus, Prescott had a little luck on his side, as on his one glaring gaffe. Just before halftime he got away with an unwise ‘shovel’ toss before going down that ought have been picked by star Tiger corner Tra’Darius White for six points. Yet that is also part of the 2014 Prescott point. When a guy is playing well even his mistakes don’t amount to much in the end.
The win? That amounted to incredibly much for Mississippi State, now 4-0 and off to a 1-0 SEC start. “In the SEC West,” Mullen reminded. Of course for Prescott there was the extra personal angle he did try down-playing a little. It still showed.
“I mean it was another game, it’s just how I prepared myself and got ready to go. But it’s a SEC game and it’s nothing like a SEC game coming back home to the state of Louisiana.” And, to play the program that noticed him a little late in the recruiting process and failed to turn Prescott from his first choice.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do when I committed to Mississippi State. And I stayed true to myself, trusted my teammates, trusted the coaches, and we got it done.” When Prescott said ‘we’ he meant it, too. Sure, walking out of Tiger Stadium with that long-sought win meant ever so much to him. But the hours and hours of self-assigned scouting study was not just for Prescott’s own success.
“I think it meant a lot to this university, Coach Mullen, the ad, everybody at Mississippi State. A big win for everybody.”