Runs it beautifully, too. Under Prescott’s direction Mississippi State’s offensive yardage is as near to 50/50 as makes no difference. Through five games the Bulldog have netted 1,363 rushing yards and 1,346 via passing. If this isn’t scripted, it is planned. Game-planned that is.
“Coach Mullen does a great job with the game plans and the play-calling,” said Prescott. “We kind of have the run and the pass available at all times, we’re trying to be balanced and keep the defense on their toes.”
This week the toes belong to Tigers, as #3 Mississippi State (5-0, 2-0 SEC) hosts #2 Auburn (5-0, 2-0) in a mid-season showdown of Western Division contenders. The winner or maybe survivor will leave Scott Field having made a very long stride towards the conference championship game and playoff berth.
The loser won’t be eliminated from either, certainly not the national title rounds. But as Prescott agrees, it is always better to set the pace in this sort of race.
“We know what has to be done. We know all that is going to be there as long as we continue success, if we lose a game it’s gone. That’s just part of being successful.”
Success has come fast and often for the Bulldog offense this season. Not only is the yardage well-balanced, so is the more important scoring statistic. Through the first three games against lesser (re: non-SEC) competition the air attack produced most point. Beating Louisiana State and Texas A&M demanded more ground-pounding and the scoring score is just about even now at 13 rushing touchdowns to 15 on pass plays.
A balanced plan takes on that much more meaning this week. The Tigers are rightly praised for their own productive offense, ground and air alike. Prescott gives the heads-up about how Auburn handles business on the other side of the squad.
“They’re a good defense. They’ve played in some big-time games, they’re a big-team team. And I think they’ll be the best defense and best team we’ve played so far.” The SEC’s stats back up Prescott’s scouting; #2 in scoring defense, #3 against the rush, and #2 defending the red zone.
Prescott has seen Tiger defenses first-hand already. In fact his first SEC start came at Auburn in 2013. The Bulldogs recovered from a shaky start on both sides to lead 20-17 for all but ten seconds of the fourth quarter. That was just a little too long for State to hang on though, as Nick Marshall threw to C.J. Usomah in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
A year later Mississippi State’s quarterback has his own game-changing memory, when he was stopped on third-and-short with the clock nearing a minute left and the Bulldogs had to punt it back. One more yard would have iced a road win and certainly rippled through the rest of the SEC season.
“I remember we had the game in our hands. We had some success and they starting heating us up there at the end and kind of slowed us down. We had the game and they won it there at the end.”
Again though, then-soph Prescott had only become the starter a week earlier, against Alcorn State. He acquitted himself well in the first SEC start with 133 rushing yards and two touchdowns and 213 more passing yards. Since then Prescott has only improved every aspect of his own game, and along with him the entire Bulldog offense.
Most notably, his passing performance. Prescott’s talents for ground-pounding have never been a question and in 2013 he set the season record for rushing by a Bulldog quarterback. This year he can and will haul the ball productively and averages 5.4 yards per keeper with six touchdowns. Still it is in the air that Prescott is garnering attention not just around the conference but across the country. He’s completed almost 64% of his throws with 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Some of this is due to Coach Dan Mullen himself assuming responsibility as offensive coordinator. Much is Prescott’s own efforts in-, off-, and pre-season to polish his passing. Then there is the input of new quarterbacks Coach Brian Johnson who has improved, well…?
“Just everything, really,” Prescott said. “The focus and the demeanor he brings to the meeting room, and just him as a person raises my level as a quarterback.”
“And he’s worked really hard with keeping my feet underneath me. Before every game he tells me set my feet, and that’s about all he tells me honestly. Just that little detail of being focused and get them underneath me and make throws is the most important part I’ve gotten better with this year.”
Now that Prescott has his feet firmly set, it will become an increasing challenge to keep his head level. Only one game into October and much like his team has gone from unranked to #3, their quarterback has leaped to the forefront of Heisman Trophy speculation. Here is something Prescott had no notion would become a game-week distraction of sorts.
“I’m happy that it brings (attention) to my school. But not me personally, I mean I don’t pay attention or care about that. As long as this team is winning I’m happy with that. And if that’s out there, then that’s out there.”
As long as Mississippi State keeps winning Prescott’s name will indeed be out there. What matters more to quarterback and club is staying out ahead of this potent pack of Western Division contenders. Even if the half-way point is just coming into view.
”But this team is headed in the right direction, we’re doing everything we wanted to do coming into the season,” Prescott said. “So everybody is just trying to continue the success.”