Bulldogs Make Their State-Ment

One team arrived ranked #6; the other #12. Now after a 48-31 whipping of Texas A&M, those polls will likely be reversed, and at the least Mississippi State will have a single-digit before the name. “A pretty big statement,” said Dak Prescott. “A Mississippi State-ment.”

No, the quarterback hasn’t joined the marketing department yet. Nor had he planned such a state-ment. “Not actually, a little witty!” But directing a victory even more dominating than the final margin is the best possible advertisement that the Bulldogs are indeed a force on the national stage. Coming after their win at #8 LSU two weekends ago, Mississippi State has now beaten top-ten-ranked victims in consecutive contests.

They also are off to a 5-0 start on the season and 2-0 SEC, among the shrinking handful of unbeatens in both conference and country. The Aggies left 5-1, 2-1 SEC.

Coach Dan Mullen gave due regard to the visitors, and tossed around a few fast critiques of his own club. Which did nothing to diminish his emotions about the latest and maybe so far greatest breakthrough of his six Mississippi State seasons.

”Overall I’m really proud of how our guys played and handled themselves in taking care of their business.”

It was a business-like Bulldog bunch showing up for the 11:00am kickoff. Never mind State had to play without its suspended starting center, or the leading and limping wide receiver, or even there outstanding punter who a minute before gametime said he’d popped something in the groin area. Nor that the Aggies, true to their high-flying reputation, put up the game’s first fast touchdown.

This really was just business as usual for an increasingly-confident team. “We’ve just playing Mississippi State ball,” said RB Josh Robinson. “Playing good ball right now and we just have to continue what we’re doing.”

Good is an under-State-ment as Prescott might have said. After spotting the Aggies their first touchdown after just 101 seconds and six snaps, the Bulldog offense reeled off four unanswered touchdowns for a 28-7 lead. Meanwhile the defensive Dogs took care of their own business.

”That’s just what our defense does,” said LB Richie Brown. We’re deep and we have a lot of faith in everybody.” Plus faith in a gameplan that didn’t demand shutting the Aggies down…which would be impossible anyway. Making enough stops at the right times and places, and maybe forcing a few turnovers, was the ideal.

It worked. After that fast first score A&M had six scoreless series, only half ended on punts. With a 7-7 score the Bulldog defense made maybe the day’s key play on that side, as LB Beniquez Brown blew threw blocking to stuff Tra Carson for a three-yard loss. Two more Aggie turns ended on consecutive interceptions in the second quarter, and with time running down before halftime got a clutch open field tackle from S Kendrick Market. A&M settled for a short field goal and 28-10 deficit at the break.

“It was a combination of things,” said Brown. “The d-line getting great pressure on the quarterback, great communication between the secondary and the linebackers. It’s a lot of things that go into it.”

The Aggie offense did muster 526 yards on the day, with a fair share of big plays made. They also popped a pair of late—too late—touchdown passes for a more respectable final margin. It mattered only to statisticians and gamblers, though Mullen didn’t entirely relax until 0:00.

“It was 3-1/2 hour roller coaster day. But our guys were prepared for that. Texas A&M was going to make some plays, we just had to make the next play and continue to respond.”

The best response was scoring, something Prescott produced. The junior was even more efficient than at LSU with 19-of-25 completions for 259 yards and two touchdowns. And, no turnovers. He absorbed three sacks when the Aggies guessed right but kept a handle on ball and everything else and was able to bounce right back.

If the strong arm wasn’t enough, Prescott also picked the right spots to run intentionally. The 77 net yards was somewhat modest but three touchdowns weren’t. “I said going into the game we had it, we just had to execute and be smart about the gameplan and handle our business.” The five total touchdowns gives Prescott a career total of 50, just two short of the program record.

Texas A&M couldn’t focus on quarterback keepers either. Robinson notched a third 100-yard game with 107 this time, on 17 rushes. Twice the Bulldogs’ bowling-ball back bowled through the line for the tying and go-ahead touchdowns in the first quarter on runs of one and two yards. Both backs benefited from hard work by an offensive line revamped for the absence of senior center Dillon Day, with guard Beckwith going over the ball and Devon Desper taking over as a first-time starting guard.

A 289-yard output showed the blocking was just as productive. “I have utmost confidence in my offensive linemen,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t matter sliding around, they’re going to do their job.”

Robinson did his on the first Bulldog series, breaking a 49-yard rush that along with a personal foul put the ball on A&M’s five-yard line. After Prescott moved it the first four yards Robinson got the other, at 10:30. The Aggies were poised to regain their lead when KR Jamoral Graham dropped the punt at State’s 26. But with 4th-and-one they spurned a short kick and paid for it as Brown made the crucial stop.

A swap of punts later Prescott went to the air with catches by WR Fred Ross and WR Joe Morrow for 22 yards both times. Robinson again did the honors for the 14-7 lead, and the Bulldogs were just getting good and going. Prescott found WR De’Runnya Wilson for 32 yards, Graham for 20 more, and on 3rd-and-goal kept for himself.

Crashing into left guard, “I almost went down and I don’t know if it was a teammate or I had an extra leg help me up, it’s still kind of weird. But I kind of leaned forward and fell into the end zone so it worked out.” For a 21-7 lead that is. Things got wild afterwards as Robinson lost his grip on a short catch for a turnover, only to have A&M give it back as linebacker Brown came up with his second interception of the half. RB Brandon Holloway and Prescott combined for 27 rushing yards on four snaps, then WR Gabe Myles executed the throwback pass to Prescott for 11 more down to the Aggie nine.

This time Wilson curled inside coverage to pull in a low throw for the 28-7 lead at 2:02. That left enough time for the Aggies to go 74 yards to the Bulldog nine. What kept them from trying for the end zone was Market’s clock-running tackle of Boone Niederhofer at the nine. Aggie Kenny Hill’s throw to the end zone was covered by CB Jamerson Love and wide anyway, so they took the easy three that was just about a win for the Dog defense.

State could have matched that to begin the third quarter but PK Evan Sobiesk’s 42-yard try missed left. It didn’t hurt though. A&M’s next two series were stopped and the Bulldogs were able to expand the lead. Wideout-turned-back Brandon Holloway showed his burst on runs of 13 and 51 yards consecutively to the Aggie three, and two Prescott runs finished the drive. The PAT was blocked.

Even when A&M produced a touchdown drive cutting it to 34-17, on a great grab-and-reach by Speedy Noil, the home team had an answer. It was Prescott, firing from the Bulldog 49 even before WR Fred Brown had stopped and spun back on the sideline route. The Aggie defender turned too late and slipped so Brown could go the rest of the 51 yards at 2:08 of the quarter.

“Right there was kind of the nail in the coffin,” said Prescott.

If not then, Prescott sealed the lid with his 11-yard keeper untouched up the middle at 10:19 of the fourth period. A&M was able to get the ball to Noil for a six-yard touchdown at 2:29, and after recovering the onsides kick it was Hill hitting Josh Reynolds from 23 yards out at 1:25. LB Zach Jackson halted any other antics by falling on the next onsides try.

“Our players did a lot of things we needed to do to get a win,” Mullen said. “We made a couple of errors but we did a lot of the things that are really important and that you need to do to win.”

A&M’s gifted sophomore Hill had just two interceptions the first five games but saw three of his 62 passes end up in the wrong hands. Belonging to Bulldog Brown no less, who tied a single-game record last matched in 2005. Hill still threw for 365 yards and four scores, a normal day for him. Ten of those catches went to Ricky Seals-Jones for 72 yards. But the three-headed backfield was limited to 161 rush yards and broke only one ‘big’ play.

“When you have great pressure you have great coverage, and when you have great coverage you have great pressure,” Brown said. “It went hand-in-hand. It was a great team effort.” With so many throws, Dog defensive backs were bound to top the tackles charts. CB Will Redmond had ten in total with the starting corners Love and Taveze Calhoun each making eight stops. DE A.J. Jefferson accounted for 1.5 of the 4.0 net sacks on Hill with four more hurries.

Wilson led State receivers with four balls for 72 yards and the touchdown. What stood out more than individual numbers was the balance now expected of the Bulldogs, with 289 rushing yards and 270 in the air.

Coming on the heels of beating #8 LSU, these Bulldogs just wrote a page in program history with the first consecutive victories over top-ten teams. “Sweet!” Mullen chirped, before getting just a bit more serious. “We’re going to have a lot of firsts round here.”

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