Before any worry about intramural conflict here, understand that the ebullient ‘Bowling Ball’ was joking. Kind of. The club-crime referred to came in the fourth quarter with Mississippi State in secure control over Texas A&M, 41-17, with possession after LB Richie Brown’s third interception of the afternoon.
With the Aggies reeling, State struck as WR Gabe Myles turned an end-around into a 20-yard gainer to the five-yard line. Dak, as in QB Prescott, took a first-down sack back to the 11, and on second snap was supposed to take a step or two rightwards and pitch to Robinson; an option read that had been working very well all day.
What the quarterback read though was a gaping void as every Aggie not already blocked scooted outside for contain. Prescott instantly stepped straight ahead and went untouched to the end zone for the final State score. Robinson did his share of celebrating, but… “Actually I was kind of mad!” he grinned. Sure, the play had been utterly open for an easy keeper. “But it opened up for me, too!”
Fortunately Robinson had already registered first-quarter touchdowns, crashing through the line on blasts of one and two yards. That runs his junior-season total to six scores and supports his other nickname of ‘Touchdown’. Besides, Robinson notched the third 100-yard effort of the year with 107 today, on 17 carries.
Still, any chance to get in the end zone is tough to have turned-down for a guy. Not that Robinson will hold a grudge. “As long as we score and my team wins that’s all I really care about.”
GOING BROWN TOWN: The Bulldog air game did another excellent job spreading the fun, with ten receivers (including Prescott himself on a throwback) splitting up 20 receptions. WR De’Runnya Wilson led the list with four balls, further emphasizing the balance.
But the best hands of the day belonged to a guy who isn’t supposed to have balls thrown his way. Well, not intentionally. But a good linebacker can put himself in interesting positions and Richie Brown made his chances count today. Three times, to tie the program record for game interceptions.
Probably needless to add, it was a personal high as well for Brown’s entire gridiron career. In high school, “I think I had two one time. Or maybe one interception and a fumble recovery or something like that. But no, I never had three.”
In a sense one of those interceptions was more of a fumble than a pick. Aggie quarterback Kenny Hill had a low throw go off his receiver who was rolling to the turf already. The ball skipped upwards and Brown was there for a surprising carom. A series later, and after State’s Robinson had fumbled the ball back, it was another over-the-middle pass ending up in Brown’s grasp.
The third? That was a pure pick in the fourth quarter with Brown netting 19 yards in return to set up State’s final touchdown. It wasn’t as long as his 30-yard runback in the second quarter, but this time Brown looked lots like a running back heading the other way. For all who saw his Egg Bowl interception stripped away during the return last November…
“Yeah, I thought about it. Running I made sure I kept it high and tight this time and tried to secure the ball.”
The three interceptions matched the game record shared by five, wait now six, Bulldogs going back to 1946 and Billy ‘Spook’ Murphy. It was tied by Billy Stacy in 1958, Henry Davison in 1976, Darren Williams in 2002, and most recently Jeramie Johnson in the 2005 Egg Bowl.
No, Brown says, he wasn’t looking for a second or third interception. “I’m just trying to focus on my assignment, I want the win most importantly so I’m going to do my job first and try to make big plays when I have the chance.” Nor did he take personal credit. Maybe defensive backs who get more opportunities can set up a pick play; for linebackers it’s “a combination of things” Brown said.
“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.”Not to mention ability and maybe a little toughness. Brown had to step aside mid-game after a tackle and took a while to return. “I just got nicked a little, it was nothing serious.”
TAG TEAM: Coincidentally, Brown ended the game with as many interceptions as he had tackles. One reason was how many passes got tossed by Hill, 62 total or exactly two-thirds of the Aggie offensive plays. This also meant defensive backs were put in tackling situations far more often than usual. CB Will Redmond didn’t start but led the team with a career-best 10 stops.
But the other reason was simply that Brown wasn’t on the field but maybe 40% or so of snaps, exact ratio unknown. So nobody but the regular DBs were going to get too many chances to make tackles. And that’s fine with Brown.
“That’s what our defense does. We’re really deep, we have a lot of faith in everybody. And 1As and 1Bs, all of us we’re just going to roll in-and-out and we have confidence in everybody.”
Starting MLB Benardrick McKinney was second with nine tackles including a sack.
YEAH, THAT TROPHY: With another outstanding effort against a top-ten opponent, Dak Prescott will only find himself in even deeper discussion as a surprise candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The junior is already up for the Maxwell Award, O’Brien Award, Manning Award, and Unitas Golden Arm Award. But since he’s a junior most figured in August this was more setting the stage for 2015 considerations.
Now here the Bulldog quarterback is being discussed not just locally or regionally but by the national chatterers for the Heisman. Yet… “We never bring it up in front of him,” OC Ben Beckwith said. “He gets mad if we talk about it.”
Media members aren’t as shy since Prescott is too poised to show annoyance on camera or microphone. Both of which took huge tolls on his time last week and demands will only increase. However, “I’m not really worried about that,” said Prescott today of his increasing candidacy.
“I don’t want them to ignore my team though as a SEC West contender. I think this shows a statement that we can.”
PAIR OF ACES: There was one Heisman angle Prescott was happier to discuss this weekend. With the SEC Network in town, so was commentator and Trophy winner Tim Tebow, another Dan Mullen quarterback. Prescott was sincere saying it was an honor to be introduced. In fact, as the story now goes…
“I asked for #15 when I first came to Mississippi State because of Tim Tebow. So it’s an honor to get to meet him yesterday.” And be interviewed by and commented upon by the guy who sold a zillion #15 jerseys at Florida from 2006-09. Now that Prescott can be mentioned in connection, the comparisons are under way too for a couple of dual-threat quarterbacks with a tough core of power running.
“Yes, says Prescott, “Our games are kind of similar. But I think I’m a different player, I have my own game. But I kind of want to mimic him in a way.”
Mullen would love for his current quarterback to mimic the achievements of the former, on and off the field. The coach even got giddy about having a picture taken with them flanking him. As to comparing? “They’re like my kids,” he said, though “then they get older and it’s hard to call Timmy my kid!” Kids of character but with a strong, some might say over-developed sense of competition and will to win, which of course is key to all success.
Prescott wasn’t shying away from showing it either when he and Tebow were taping a Saturday morning segment for broadcast in the Seal Complex weight mall. “Our strength coach said he’d take me over Tim Tebow in the weightroom,” Prescott said. “And I don’t think Tim liked that a little bit, we almost had to go get a pump-time in!” This was with Tebow fresh off his own working and Prescott looking at a game in a few hours, mind.
Mullen laughed at the near-incident. “And it would have been a pretty ugly competition, ugly in that I don’t think anybody would have given in! They’re two ultimate competitors and they’re winners and that’s what they both have.”
QUICK SHUFFLES: Mississippi State was already making one lineup change for this matchup. A SEC suspension for his actions at LSU had senior OC Dillon Day sidelined. So senior and starting left guard Ben Beckwith stepped in at center, fortunately with two weeks to prepare.
Two other Dogs were working on shorter notice. Much shorter in the case of P Logan Cooke, who up to about 10:50 figured he was redshirting. P Devon Bell has averaged over 43 yards so far with placement and hang time to match the range. Then on the last kick of warmups Bell told Mullen he’d felt something ‘pop’ in the groin.
When the teams returned for coin toss, “I watched him try to do one kickoff, and I’m talking about 45 seconds on the game clock,” said Mullen. “He didn’t feel comfortable. I looked at Logan and said, you’re up. He had all of 30 seconds to prepare himself for his first college football game.”
Cooke responded just fine for a true frosh. He averaged almost 64 yards on kickoffs with three of the eight boots for touchbacks and two others returned from way back in the end zone. And the real showing was punting as Cooke averaged 45.2 yards on the only four times State had to kick it away.
The other adjustment was to the offense. During Thursday’s final full practice WR Jameon Lewis came up lame. “It was something that acted up on him,” said Mullen admitting the problem had begun in the LSU game. “Resting him the bye week he was fine. Friday at the walk-through he didn’t feel great, and the (Saturday morning) walk-through he couldn’t walk.”
Lewis did not dress, and saw his 16-game receiving streak ended. But his young backup delivered. Redshirt freshman WR Gabe Myles drew his first college start and caught all three passes sent his way, for 15 yards. Myles also rushed twice for 29 yards, and even was used in Lewis’ favorite gadget play: the throwback. Rolling right after taking the end-around toss, the high school quarterback lobbed it back to Prescott for a 11-yard gain down the Aggie nine.
In that, now, Myles failed to follow-suit on his elder. Four times Lewis has thrown a throwback pass in two seasons, and all have gone for touchdowns.
Meanwhile Beckwith had a flawless afternoon at center, playing there for the first time since his junior year in high school. Equally encouraging was how Devon Desper, thrust into starting duty, performed at guard.
Oh, and Day did get on camera anyway, during a break in play when he went out to offer one of the SEC officiating crew a cup of water. Just to show no hard feelings, eh?
MSU-ELLANEOUS NOTES: Dan Mullen’s Bulldog teams are now 10-8 when playing as a ranked team… After two losses, State has now beaten Texas A&M as a conference opponent… Going back to November, Bulldog teams have now won eight-straight games, the second-longest such streak under Mullen… The 213 points scored in the first five games of this season is a record to open a schedule, though just short of the 221 points the 1994 team scored in a mid-season stretch… The Bulldog offense has put up over 500 total yards in all five games, a school record… A&M quarterback Kenny Hill had only two interceptions in the previous five games, but was picked three times this game and all as noted by LB Richie Brown… QB Dak Prescott now has 50 career touchdowns which puts him second in MSU history behind only Don Smith’s 52 from 1983-86… WR De’Runnya Wilson has 14 catches this season, with five going for touchdowns… Mississippi State anticipates moving into the top-ten in the next poll release, for the first time since 1999… With Auburn’s win today, the Bulldogs will be facing three-straight opponents ranked in the top-ten for the first time in school history.